Once October arrives, my garden practices shift into end of season focus. I move from a maintenance mode into winter protection and next season dreams. This week’s first frost signals time to prepare my gardens for the winter. A simple Fall Garden Checklist serves as my end of season guide:
- Good time to divide and replant iris. I find with my annual spring mulch applications…my iris bulb end up deeper than they prefer to produce their blooms. Fall is a good time to pull, divide and bring them more superficially to the surface. Doing this in October gives them a few weeks to root before the freezing weather arrives.
- Peonies prefer to be moved this time of year. I have made the mistake of trying to transplant them in the spring, only to suffer without blooms for one or two years. When transplanting try not to disturb the roots. Give it a good root ball and make sure you plant at the depth equal to that of its original space.
- After the first frost, begin to cut back your perennial plants. Lower temperatures signal reduction in growth, beginning dormancy. Let the energy concentrate underground until the freeze arrives.
- Fall is for planting. Yes, you heard it right. In our region I have had great success planting in the Fall. October offers temperatures that are less stressful for new plantings. The morning dew and rain give you great natural watering for plant establishment. Garden centers may offer terrific end of season sales. That perennial you have been wishing for may be priced within your range. Make sure to loosen the plant roots adequately before planting. It may well be that those plants have been in pots all season….you want a nice loose root ball to establish before the ground freezes.
- Start that new garden bed. You may not know exactly what you want in your new bed….but you have your area in mind. The cooler weather makes the physicality of establishing a new garden area far easier on the body. You will definitely have more energy without the heat and humidity. Plot out your area, weed trim it low (leave the clippings) them cover with cardboard. I like to secure my cardboard in place with a few landscape staples. Add a layer of compost mulch over that cardboard to weigh it down and assist with decomposition. Come spring you will have a new planting area without the tough labor. A little tweaking of the edges etc and you are ready to design and plant.
- Pull your summer bulbs. I dig up my cana, dahlia, gladiolas, dry and store them in my basement. Get into this habit and you will save yourself dollars next season. I am astounded how many folks throw out summer bulbs just for convenience!
- Cut back your perennials. Time to get in there and cut back your perennials for the season. Most plants are yellowed and browned by now. I cut them all back just inches from the ground. Make sure you clean all the leaves and debris out. I find this minimizes critters taking up residence in my beds over the winter
- Check out Container sales. You may still be able to find some great buys on garden containers this time of year. If the Christmas decorations have not yet taken over your garden centers, you can often find deep discounts on those large ceramic and faux containers to intersperse throughout your beds next year. I found the perfect one for a front garden I am restoring for next year. Price was right!
- Fertilize? Once my beds are cleaned out, I like to apply a root targeting fertilizer as a soil conditioner before the ground freezes. This is generally a 3-3-3 or 3-2-2. I realize there are many who do not support this practice. But I find it a good measure to get my plants off to a great start next season.
- Plant your spring bulbs. There is always room to tuck a few more bulbs in your beds. Nothing makes me smile more than bursts of color popping up in my post winter gardens. (Check out my next blog for more ideas on bulb planting)
Saying goodbye to another garden season is sad. The cold and snowy time is near. No more dirt under may nails for a few months. Using my Fall Checklist, there is comfort and excitement knowing I will start my new season with a clean bedding area ready to enjoy once the snow disappears. As always, keeping common sense and sustainability at the core of all my garden practices!