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Preparing for Fall

As summer turns to fall, your garden will probably start looking pretty tired and will need a splash of color as you head into winter. Before we discuss adding color, let's talk a bit about cleaning it up for the fall and winter months.


Cleaning up the garden in the fall is about a lot more than just making it look tidier. If you do just a few extra things as you clean things up it can make a big impact on your garden next year. For instance, during the last weeks of summer as you are taking some of your plants out, make sure plenty of their seeds fall on the ground so that they are more likely to come up next year.

To encourage plant volunteers for next year, let flowerheads ripen and dry on the stalks, shake or gently break apart letting seedheads spread over ground, remove spent stalks, then mulch lightly. Good reseeders include: coreopsis, larkspur, snapdragons, poppies, sunflowers, alyssum, bachelor buttons, cosmos, flax, and dill.

There are some plants that you might not want to return next year, like those with diseases and pests. If you find problem areas like this, remove them. You should even remove any leaves of your roses that are afflicted with black spot.

As you remove diseased materials, don't throw them in your compost bin. This will help keep you from spreading the problem around your garden next year. If there is no disease problem, leaves and small twigs should be added to your compost. The leaves of perennials are the perfect addition to making some really rich compost for next year's garden.

If you're using pruners on infected materials, you might want to clean them by dipping them in a household disinfectant.

To revamp a bed for spring planting: clear bed of all debris (chop and add to compost pile, or dig into bed to decompose over the winter); till the soil, amend with fully finished compost, till again and smooth with a rake. Mulch beds with a thick layer (4-6") of organic mulch. There are a variety of mulches including straw, compost, shredded bark, and leaves. By spring, you'll have a free source of humus to mix in your flowerbeds.


Traditionally chrysanthemums, sometimes called mums, are planted for fall color, but there are some alternatives you might want to consider so that your garden is a little different then the guy next door's. You might consider planting ornamental peppers that show brightly colored fruit that covers the top of the plant. Peppers do not like wet feet, so don't over-water. If you get tired of looking at them, you can always harvest the peppers and add them to your favorite dish. Some other great alternatives are ornamental cabbages and kales. If you live in the mild part of the country, pansies will bloom all winter long.

For a shade garden, you might try the Japanese anemone. And for full sun, New England asters and ornamental grasses can't be beat. All of these will be sure to come back in your garden next year. As the temperatures cool and the light begins to change, take a look around one of your local nurseries and you'll find there is a lot more available for fall planting than ever before.


Many people think that spring is the only time of year to plant, but fall is one of the best times of the year to get shrubs and trees into the ground. During the fall they are beginning to go into dormancy and since the soil temperatures are still warm compared to the air, this is an ideal environment for root development.

Remember when you are planting to dig a generous hole, roughly twice the size of the root ball. Then slide the plant out of the container and gently tear the roots to encourage them to grow out. When you place the plant in the hole, set it slightly higher than ground level to allow for settling. Fill in around the plant with half compost and half of the existing soil and water it in with a vitamin supplement to encourage root growth. Tuck in a little mulch but be careful not to get any on the crown.

Remember to keep fertilizing your lawn on a regular basis. This will keep it green longer into the cool season.

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