Fall Gardening Checklist
By: Brent and Becky
We’re lucky to live in a more southern climate where Winter weather is still months away. Some of you might be looking ahead to the approach of Fall and Winter, and your Summer is slowly disappearing behind you. To get your garden ready for the impending cooler weather, follow this checklist to ensure everything is in order.
Fall Garden Care
Fall is when our lives get particularly busy with harvesting the last from our gardens, sending kids back to school, and getting ready for the days to be shorter and colder. And for us, we call it Bulb Shipping Season! The colors of autumn appear and our gardens are slowly closing up for their seasonal hibernation.
The end of the season doesn’t mean giving up on our gardens, though. Even while things turn to yellow and brown, we still have plenty to do to make sure our gardens emerge happy, healthy, and vibrant in the spring. An ounce of effort now is worth more than a pound of work in the Spring when all we want to do is get planting.
With the exception of Fall and Spring blooming bulbs, Fall is actually the perfect time to toy around with transplanting and performing surgery on your plants. As they go into hibernation from the cold, it’s almost like an anesthetic that keeps them less stressed, and more healthy, as you do the work that has to be done.
When transplanting, prepare the new hole first. Dig it to fit the rootball plus some extra loose, fibrous, rich soil. Try to dig up as big of a root ball as you can to disturb the plant the least and to give it’s roots more to work with in its new location. Toss some compost in the new hole and surround with good soil for your plant to really work into just before the freeze. Water your plant well and you’ll be delighted to find new, successful growth when the plant wakes up in the spring. This trick works for trees too.
This is NOT the time to move Fall or Spring blooming bulbs. Fall bulbs are already underway and will be emerging soon. Spring bulbs create their new roots at this time, taking in the needed nutrients from the soil (which is why you feed them in the Fall) and prepare themselves for Spring’s warmth. Trying to move these now could damage their roots and be detrimental to their coming back again in the Spring. Move Spring bulbs just after they are done in the late Spring or early Summer.
Planting Fall Bulbs:
Fall bulbs are a gift to your Spring garden. They’re so simple - you can plant them and forget them over the Winter, but then they reward you with enthusiastic color right at the start of the Spring melt when the rest of your garden is still asleep. In the early Spring when everything is still a shade of muddy brown, a splash of color from Crocus or early blooming Daffodils is a gift from the past.
Getting your Fall bulbs started is incredibly easy, and the effort is rewarded tenfold in the new year. Pick a spot with proper sun conditions and soil conditions for your bulbs and plan to plant in groups. While a single bulb can certainly grow just fine, we’ve always thought that they look best in groups. 5 - 10 blooms in a patch is usually perfect and will be an eye-catching hint of color before the rest of your yard and garden have even woken up. Generally, plant your bulbs 3 times the bulb height deep (4 times for Tulips) with the pointy side facing up. Water them and look forward to seeing them pop in the Spring.
Making the Bed:
As kids, we hated this chore, but it is actually a great morning habit to get into in the garden. Once Spring arrives and the cold weather is gone for good, the only thing you’ll want to do is get planting. We don’t blame you for being eager to get the most from your garden, but by setting things to bed properly before things get cold you’ll actually be able to make more of the spring.
Start by amending after your Fall harvest. If you’re growing any edible garden veggies, this is super important, but everything in your garden can use a little nutrient boost when they’re just getting started in the Spring. Add an inch or two of compost on top of the beds to really set yourself up for success later.
Other Garden Chores:
Dealing with pots - Big ceramic pots are beautiful, but they can be a bit of a pain. We never bother moving them to store them each year because they can be so heavy. The good news is you actually don’t need to drag these big ceramics around, as long as you make sure they stay dry before the freeze. Pull the old roots and soil out, clean off the outside and make sure it’s all dry.
If you are forcing bulbs in your pots, make sure to cover the pots on all sides with mulch for complete Winter freeze protection. We use pine straw because it is light weight and readily available here in our area of Virginia. This extra coverage will protect the bulbs from the freezing temperatures that hit the pot from the top and sides, keeping your precious investment comfy until Spring arrives. In the Spring when the fear of frost has gone, just uncover the pot to expose it to the warm Spring sunlight and air.
Raking - Unless you have an abundance of mature trees and all their leaves on your lawn, you can put away the rake. However, neglecting that last lawn mow of the season might create more trouble than it’s worth. A final mow can mulch up the fallen leaves, while trimming the grass to keep it healthy, while keeping small vermin away over the Winter.
Getting equipment ready - You’ll want to dive into your garden in the Spring, and waiting to fix up equipment can be an annoyance. Take the time in the Fall to get your lawn mower tuned up and make sure your tools are in order so you’ll have all you need later on.
Fall preparations always get us excited about the next growing season to come, even as we clean up the end of this year’s season. A bit of work now is an investment you’ll thank yourself for when you see fresh bulbs peeking up as the temperatures warm and your garden and tools are ready for the season. It’s like finding $20 in an old jacket - a pleasant surprise that will put a smile on your face all the way into Summer.
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