Fall Steps to a Wonderful Landscape
Many gardeners dread the traditional fall “clean-up” of their gardens and yard. It signals the arrival of winter with cold and snow and the passing of sunny warm days with beautiful gardens and green grass. But fall clean-up doesn’t have to be such a chore. Below are some recommendations to do this fall; most are more like ‘fun’ than ‘work’.
Don’t Rake the Leaves
Yes, you have been told you must rake the leaves off your lawn or your grass will die. That is a myth! Just use the lawn mower to shred the leaves and mow your lawn at the same time. Ditch the rake and the bagger attachment to your mower. As long as you can see grass poking up out of the leaves you can safely mow the leaves without harming the lawn. The little bits of leaves will add organic matter to the soil which helps improve both drainage and its water holding ability.
Fertilize your lawn
Fall is a great time to fertilize your lawn, but use a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer such as Milorganite. I suggest an organic fertilizer as it works with the natural balance of the soil, virtually no risk of over applying, doesn’t pollute groundwater or cause polluted runoff and adds organic material to the soil. Fertilizing in the fall helps your lawn recover from stresses in the summer and encourages deep roots which helps compete with weeds, diseases and insects. It is suggested you fertilize early September and in late October.
Yes, you can plant perennials, shrubs and trees in the fall! It is a great time for planting as the soil is warm and the hot, dry days of summer have passed.
Fall is the best time to plant daffodil, tulip, crocus and other types of bulbs. Plant bulbs when the night-time temperatures are around 40-50°F. If you plant too soon, you risk the bulbs sprouting early. Follow the planting instructions on the package. A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs 2-3 times their height in the ground.
Skip Cleaning the Garden
Leave the stalks of the dead perennials for overwintering pollinators. Wait until there have been several 50°F days in the spring before removing dead foliage. Not only will you increase the beneficial insects in your garden next year, you add winter interest to your landscape.
Exception: Remove all diseased plant material this fall and dispose of it at a county compost site. Your home compost probably doesn’t get hot enough to kill pathogens and in the spring when you use the compost you may be spreading disease in your garden. Most tomato plants have some sort of fungal problem in the fall, so dispose of them too even if they look okay.
Start a Compost Pile
Anytime of the year is the good time to start a compost pile, but sometimes the fall is a great time as you have less other chores to do. There are dozens of ways to set up a compost pile. Spend a rainy day researching ideas on the internet.
Here is a good place to start: https://joegardener.com/how-to-make-compost/
Start a New Garden
Fall is a great time to start a new garden and you won’t need to do the back breaking work of removing sod! Sometimes called sheet gardening, sheet mulch gardening or lasagna gardening. Here are the steps:
1. Outline the area of the new garden with rope or a garden hose. Place cardboard or 5-6 sheet stacks of newspaper over the grass/weeds. Make sure to overlap the sheets of cardboard or newspaper. No need to remove the sod or weeds as the grass/weeds will decompose under the cardboard or paper.
2. Spread on a 5-6” layer of compost. Top with a 3-4” layer of mulch such as shredded leaves, straw or wood chips. You can make each layer thicker as it will shrink as it decomposes. By next spring you can plant without tiling, double digging or turning over the soil. The grass/weeds at the bottom will have decomposed and your plant’s roots will easily penetrate deeper as they grow bigger.
3. Each year add more compost to your garden to create a beautiful ‘Black Gold’ growing bed.
Journal Your Successes (and the less than successes)
Keeping a journal of your gardening adventures helps you down the road. Use a simple spiral notebook to write down what you grew, what didn’t grow and what varieties performed the best or what you want to try next year. This winter or spring when you plan your garden you’ll know what worked and what didn’t work. I also add a To-Do List in my journal so I remember what seeds I want to grow or what plants need to be moved or replaced.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to save seeds. The seed library is always in need of tomato, pea, bean, lettuce, sweet pepper and native plant seeds. Fall is when most native plants set seeds. Wait until the seed pods are brown and dry before harvesting. Your pea and bean seed pods are probably dry by now too.