Fall Brings Outdoor Garden Chores and Dreams of Next Year
September 6, 2018
This is the first week of September. For many, thoughts will soon be turning toward apple cider and warm sweaters. Eventually, rakes and leaf blowers will appear in each neighborhood. If you’ve been enjoying a flower or vegetable garden this summer, you may already be making plans for a garden wind-down.
In fact, most flower gardens will remain attractive until frost and with a little care, hardy vegetables such as broccoli, head lettuce and root crops can be harvested right up until snowfall. However, a little advance planning can prevent all those fall garden tasks from accumulating into one giant work-filled weekend.
First, consider if you plan to make any changes next year to your flower or vegetable garden layout. Having a notebook to sketch your garden beds as they currently are and how you envision them to be next year can be an invaluable tool. You needn’t be a draftsman in order to put it down on paper. Using a simple scale such as one inch on paper equals one foot in the garden can help keep plans realistic.
If you plan to make changes to your garden or flowerbed next year, keep in mind any perennials which are growing now. Consider if and where you plan to move them to. Garden plants such as rhubarb and horseradish can be easily divided with a spade or garden fork and given away to friends. Strawberries, however, are best left in the ground and well-covered in the Midwest once they’ve been hardened off by two ore there good frosts. Cover strawberries with six inches of weed-free mulch such as grass clippings, leaves, or evergreen boughs. They can be divided in late spring when young plants form from the runners.
Most perennial flowers can be divided in either fall or spring. If peonies, poppies or irises appear crowded, now is a good time to divide. Dig up prolific growers such as hostas and Shasta daisies now as well, separating plants with a knife if necessary. Give some away or place them in a holding bed or large flower pot until spring. Water well. This is best done when there is at least a month left before a killing frost, so roots have time to establish themselves before the winter sleep. Again, a good six inch layer of mulch will protect the new plantings. If the new plantings are in a pot, keep them in a cold place to wait out the winter such as a garage or garden shed.
Now is also the time to plant spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Add bone meal or bulb fertilizer when planting and mark the planting location so you’ll know where to watch come spring.
For perennials which will not be disturbed, trim back the foliage before covering for the winter with mulch. The faded seed heads of some flowers provide a feast for feathered guests during the winter. These include Shasta daisies, coneflowers, Bachelor’s Buttons and zinnias. If you enjoy watching birds, keep the dried seed heads on the stalks and the birds will do the work for you.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because the season is winding down, it’s time to stop watering. Keep watering flowers and growing vegetable plants as long as outdoor temperatures remain above freezing.
Now is also the time to clean, sharpen and oil garden hand tools. Tools such as spades, hoes and grass shears can be sharpened at a reputable hardware, or if you wish to learn how to do it yourself, the National Gardening Association has detailed instruction on this and numerous other topics at http://www.garden.org/howtos. If rust has developed on garden tools, use a fine-grained sandpaper to gently clean it away and rub a light coating of household oil over them before storing for the winter.
Fall garden chores are inevitable, yet do not have to be a burden with careful planning. Tackling a small task or two as time allows can actually help ensure everything gets done.