The first chill of the fall gets us gardeners thinking of bed prepping and I'm not referring to the nice cozy one in your house! Whether its raking leaves, trimming perennials or pulling out those last pesky weeds, completing these chores now will minimize your to do list when the busy spring arrives.
What I mean by prepping your “outdoor bed” in the fall is to amend soil, as well as tidy and trim debris from perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs. These types of cultural practices for your gardens are essential to ensure that plants remain healthy during the harsh winter. You may even have the desire to prepare a new bed for next year or add a new shape to existing beds.
Choosing a beautiful fall day to spend cleaning up your yard is so rewarding in many ways, both you and your garden will benefit from it! Remind yourself not to get overwhelmed with chores and that what you don't get done today, you can finish another day. Begin by removing any “spent” annuals as well as tops from perennials. Some flower heads of perennials such as Astilbe or Sedum are full of seeds and can be left for the enjoyment of birds to feed off of. Maintenance of your yard at this time will help you take stock of what needs to be done and will help reduce the risk of disease and insect issues in the spring. Diseased debris, including leaves from trees and shrubs should be discarded in waste and not compost. Not all compost piles are guaranteed to reach the ample temperature to kill any pathogens from diseased debris. You can “leaf” some leaves on the beds or lawn, as it will provide a good source of natural nutrients that will breakdown over the winter.
Division and transplanting perennials can be done in the fall as long as your plants will have at least 6 weeks of good root establishment before the ground freezes. Some hardy perennials such as Chrysanthemums or Echinacea do quite well when divided in the fall. Learn more here about garden maintenance tips.
Cutting back perennials to ground level or leaving an inch of foliage in the will not harm the plant at this time. Perennials naturally transfer their nutrients to the roots as they go back into dormancy.
As you tidy debris from the beds you may come across some unwanted plants…AKA WEEDS! For old time’s sake, take one last time to do some weeding and you’ll be glad you did come spring. When weeding, be very mindful that you pull out the entire weed especially the root. If any roots are left in the soil they will soon sprout next season and continue to spread.
Many gardeners choose to add compost or fertilizers in the fall or spring to provide as much nutrition as possible for their plants including lawns and trees. This is a great idea especially when you may have encountered problem areas in your garden. If you haven’t already identified what it may be or tried correcting the problem,why not invest in taking a soil test. It is an inexpensive investment for your garden, very simple to do and can even be done by you! If you would rather not do it yourself, for a small fee you can drop of a soil sample at your local Agriculture Centre. Many communities have a lab where testing is done and along with the test you will receive a report of what your garden needs to be amended with. The addition of these amendments can be done in the fall. This will help you to know if fertilizer is needed or not as well as knowing exactly how much and what type for proper application. This process can be done for trees and lawns at this time as well.
As mentioned in another post, fall is a great time for planting. Of course you will want to get your Vesey’s Bulbs planted before the ground freezes. You can also scatter hardy perennial seed such as Poppy , Forget-Me-Knot , and Lupins in your garden to overwinter as a head start in the spring. Of course you can experiment with growing at this time, it’s your garden why not try something new!
Many people will save their mulching jobs for the spring and that is OK to do; however this task can also be done in the fall to help minimize the busy list in the spring. Mulch will not only keep the level of weeds to a minimum, it will continue to ensure moisture remains, provides protection from heaving and rapid fluctuations in temperatures during the winter months. Established perennials do not necessarily need mulch but still would greatly benefit from it. Be mindful not to put too much mulch around the base of trees at this time. Too much mulch around the base of the tree will attract moisture resulting in rot and may also provide a nice warm home for rodents. Surrounding the base of young trees with guards before snow cover is recommended. During the winter months rodents love to chew the bark of trees especially the young ones, tree guards will protect against this. You may also want to consider staking any young trees at this time to protect against possible breakage during high winds.
Most gardeners would think that with all the fall moisture it is not necessary to water any trees. Watering needled and broad leafed evergreens, especially during dry spells in the fall, is so beneficial. These types of trees and shrubs depend on a reserve of moisture to protect them from drying out. You will notice that many evergreens eventually go brown, this is a result of lack of moisture and drying out from high winds during the winter months. Keeping the roots well watered in the fall will provide them with a good amount of moisture to draw from before they go into dormancy. You can also wrap your trees and shrubs with burlap at this time as an added protection from harsh winds and temperatures where needed.
Once the fall chores are completed and the even colder weather sets in you can sit back and relax with a nice warm cup of coffee or tea and dream about next season as you look through the newest Vesey’s bulb and seed catalogs that are coming soon!