It may still be 85 degrees and humid outside, but the shorter days and rapid influx of all things pumpkin spice (Seriously guys, I just saw pumpkin spice scented toilet paper.) can only mean one thing: fall is just around the corner.
For me, summer in Ohio is a time of maintenance in the garden (make sure everything is getting enough water, pull weeds, trim certain perennials to push out new blooms, pull the same stupid weeds again…). During the fall, though, I start to look towards my garden with an eye for planning: what winter preparations need to take place and even some spring design work.
Step 1: Switch out the planters
The first thing that happens in my yard is I switch out the summer annuals like petunias and salvia in my porch pots with others worthier of cooler temperatures. I will admit that I avoid the traditional mums (no reason other than personal preference), and instead go with combos of pansies, ornamental grasses, and even a rogue perennial heuchera here and there, which will get transplanted in the garden before the ground freezes. Healthy annuals that are removed can get composted, but make sure any diseased plants get tossed in the garbage right away. Seriously. Throw them away. Friends don’t let friends spread plant diseases.
Step 2: Plant!
The next step for me is to add more to the garden, or course! The still-warm soilsand cooler air temperatures of early fall help promote healthy root growth. Inevitably, there are several trees and shrubs I held off on planting during the arid hot weather of July that make their way into the landscape at this point. It is also a good time to plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodils, crocuses, and tulips.
While fall can be a great planting time, it’s ideal to give the roots at least six weeks to establish before the ground freezes, and fall is really not the best time to try out plants that are pushing the zone hardiness boundaries. Planting those guys in spring will give them more time to get established before having to face the harsh realities of winter in Zone 5 or 6. If you absolutely MUST plant them,
though, or you’re pushing that six week mark, you can help protect your new additions with a protective covering of mulch or shredded leaves. (After they’re dormant, though. Don’t go covering plants in early September.)
Step 3: Don’t forget the water…
It’s also important to remember that your garden still needs water throughout the fall; even if the foliage looks like it’s ready to hibernate, the roots will still be actively growing until the ground freezes. Mulch can be especially important for the roots of young trees, helping them retain moisture and avoid temperature extremes. You might also want to consider wrapping young trunks with tree wraps (that can be purchased at most garden centers) to help prevent winter sunscald and frost cracks.
Step 4: Pruning
Next for me: the shears. AFTER perennials have gone dormant, there are some, like hostas that can host slug eggs, that can do with a bit of a trim. It can also be easier to see the structure of trees for a healthier prune after dormancy has started. That being said, there are quite a few trees and shrubs I avoid pruning in the fall, as most of the tenants in my garden bloom on old wood, and you should NOT fall prune perennials that are evergreen or semi-evergreen (like Dianthus, Ajuga, or Heuchera), perennials that have winter interest (like Echinacea, Baptisia, and Allium), or perennials that have woody stems (like Perovskia, Lavandula, and Buddleia). When in doubt, visit your local garden center or shoot me an email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step 5: Decorate
The final step for me always ends up being fun for gardeners and anti-dirty-fingernail people alike: bringing the garden inside. Fall is a great time to gather dried flowers, cut branches, seed pods, ornamental grass plumes, berries…whatever you can think of for use in your indoor decorating projects. Feel free to hit up Pinterest to your heart’s content.
So what are you waiting for? Go grab your pumpkin spice latte and pruners and enjoy the season!