Now that fall has arrived, you might be tempted to put away your garden tools and head inside until spring. But if you do, you’ll be missing out on the wonders of the fall garden.
Cooler weather coupled with increased rainfall actually reinvigorates plants and trees in your landscape and produces vibrant colors before winter sets in. Lawns green-up, trees put on their best color displays, and many blooming plants send out a last stunning flower show before cold weather comes.
Fall is the perfect time to assess what worked and what didn’t in your landscape, so take the time to walk around your yard and take notes for improvements you want to do now and next spring to make your garden the best one ever next summer.
Step One: Remove Fallen Leaves
Don’t just go inside when the weather turns cool. Cleaning up fallen leaves on the lawn, patio, deck, and in your flower and shrub beds can keep your outdoors looking nice. Rake or blow leaves into piles and put them in a remote corner of your yard to create a leaf compost pile. If it looks too messy for your taste, create a bin with a circle of wire fencing and fill it up. By next year, the leaves will have broken down and you will have nutrient-rich compost you can use to layer on the soil around your plants.
Step Two: Seed Bare Spots in the Grass
To repair bare patches, scratch the surface of the soil with a metal rake and sprinkle a healthy dose of perennial grass seed on the area. Tamp it down and cover with a few handfuls of soil or finely ground mulch. Keep it moist, not wet, and in a few weeks new grass shoots will emerge to fill in the bare spots. While you’re at it, top dress the lawn with a light coating of topsoil and apply pelletized lime and fertilizer with a spreader. Your lawn will green up in a few days and look lush for months.
“Fall is the perfect time for lawn renovation,” says Dean Rossman, horticulturist and owner of Greene Street Garden Inc., a Long Island, New York-based garden design firm. “Fall typically means cooler temperatures and more rainfall and lawns love it.”
Step Three: Freshen Up Your Garden
Pull up spent annuals that have withered or stopped blooming, put them on your compost pile and replace with cool-weather plants such as chrysanthemums, ornamental kale and cabbages, or pansies and violas. These colorful plants thrive in cool weather and add a burst of color to flower beds and shrub borders. Visit public gardens and shop plant nurseries to see what’s blooming in the fall and to gather ideas.
Step Four: Add New Plants
Replace any plants in your containers that have finished blooming. For pots, mix ornamental grasses with colorful leaves and tassels available at many garden centers, including perennials such as coral bells (huechera) that have autumnal-hued leaves and trailing vines such as Boston ivy. In window boxes, remove spent annuals and replace them with tiny boxwoods, junipers, dwarf Alberta spruces and hollies. Fill the spaces in between with small pumpkins, squashes and gourds.
Step Five: Clean Out Existing Plants
Keep removing spent flower heads from plants such as black-eyed Susans, marigolds, geraniums and shrub roses. Many of these will delight you with a second wave of bloom that lasts well into fall.
Step Six: Look to the Greenery
Cut out any deadwood from trees and shrubs and give privets, boxwoods, yews and junipers a last light trimming to keep them looking neat through the winter. Just “don’t take off more than 20 percent of the plant,” says Roby Hastey Whitlock, landscape designer and owner of RWH Designs, a designer in New York City and the Hudson Valley. You don’t want to confuse the plants into thinking it’s spring again and sending out tender shoots that might be killed by an early frost, she adds.
Step Seven: Liven Things Up with Herbs
Add scent to your containers and flavor to your favorite dishes at the same time by planting herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme. Herbs love the cool weather of fall and are generally available at garden centers. Look for variegated leaved varieties to add a splash of color to containers on your porch, patio or deck.
Step Eight: Revive Garden Beds
Keep weeding the garden beds to get a jump on next spring. Also spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of pine bark, pine needles or cedar mulch on the soil to hold in moisture and warmth. Keep the mulch about three inches away from the trunks of trees and shrubs to help prevent pests (such as moles) that burrow under mulch in winter from feasting on the bark or roots of your plants.
Step Nine: Tend to Your Grasses
Cut back any perennial stalks that are dried and brown unless they have interesting seed heads that look good and will provide food for migrating songbirds. Leave your ornamental grasses standing at least until late winter when they flop over or shatter from the strong winds.
Step Ten: Don’t Stop Entertaining
Create a welcoming spot in your yard to enjoy the season. Buy a chimenea or fire pit, surround it with chairs accented with comfy cushions and throws to ward off the autumn chill, and build a fire. Invite friends over for a hot cocoa and S’mores party so they can enjoy your beautiful fall yard, too.