When the leaves start to turn and after the Labor Day
picnics, many gardeners start to feel a few pangs of sadness over the end of the growing season. Fall is the time when the garden appears to be falling asleep. However, this is not entirely true. There are many things that happen in the garden during this time, and a host of projects that you can do!
Now is the time to be planning for your spring bulb garden. Work out a plan of which bulbs you want to plant, and get a shopping list ready. Then prepare the soil where you will be planting. Most bulbs require deep planting, so till the soil at least twelve inches and add some appropriate food for the bulb types you will be planting. If you live in one of the upper climate zones, you will need to chill your bulbs in the refrigerator for 2 months before planting in December. Bulbs must have a chilling period in order for them to ‘wake up’ in the spring.
If you have planted tender bulbs such as dahlias or gladiolus, this would be the time to dig those up from the ground. After the foliage has died, cut that back and gently lift the bulbs from the soil. Store in dry material until next spring.
Perennials that bloom in the spring are best divided in the fall, such as bleeding hearts, day lilies, irises and lily of the valley. To divide these plants, dig around the base of the plant, preserving as much of the root system as you can. Gently lift the plant from the ground. You want to do this on a cloudy day when it is not too warm. That way the roots won’t become too stressed during the process. Shake off any soil that wants to come off, and survey the root system. The number of divisions you make will depend on how large the root system is. You want to make sure that you have a large chunk of roots or tubers with some top growth. If there is any dead growth on the perennial, remove all of that and the root parts attached to it.
To actually divide the plant, you can use a garden fork, or cut the plant using a shovel or knife.Next, amend the soil where you will be planting the divisions. Replant the divisions and water well. You will want to mulch these new divisions after the first full frost to give them some extra winter protection.
At this time of year, your plants are still growing, but what needs to grow is the root system, not the leaves and flowers. Even if you have late blooming plants such as mums or buddelia, do not fertilize them. Especially roses. Any new growth that occurs during this time is at risk of frost damage, which could affect the entire plant.
Plant New Perennials
Fall is one of the best time to be planting perennials. While the top of the plant looks like it is dormant, the root systems are alive and active. Without having to support the top growth, root systems can grow and store food for the following year during the fall months.
If you want seeds for planting, stop deadheading your flowers at this time so that they can produce seeds. Also, if you like wild birds, leaving the last set of flower heads will give them seeds to eat. Flowers such as coneflowers or rudbeckia will attract goldfinches during the fall months.
Improve the Soil
Whether you are planning a new garden, or just working on a current one, fall is a great time to amend the soil. Have a soil test done to see what areas you need to improve upon. You can either have this professionally done, or visit one of your local garden centers. They sell soil test kits you can perform at home, or a kit to send your soil for analysis. Once you have the test results, you know what type of amendments you will need to add, and will ensure great plant growth in the spring.
If you had any plants that experienced disease during the growing season, this is the time to replace that soil and any mulch. You don’t want your plants to suffer again next year.
Preparing your garden in the fall for the upcoming winter will give your plants the best possible start next year!