Leaf watching with friends may be the ideal way to spend time in the fall season as the landscape starts displaying kaleidoscopic colors, but gardeners have quite a busy time with fall chores that they should complete well ahead of winter.
Here’s a short checklist to help you along:
1. Fall is for planting.
Fall may seem like the end of growing season, with the trees putting up their bare arms and the perennials dying off. But quite a bit of growth continues underground until it freezes over, which makes the season the ideal time to plant a few things, especially evergreens and bulbs. If you transplant trees now, it will give them extra time to put out a strong root system.
If you wait until spring to plant spring bulbs, you’ll miss out on all the fun! They need to be planted in fall to get them to flower in spring. No wonder there’s a flood of spring bulbs in the market around this time. You can take your pick from those on sale in reputable nurseries, or browse through the catalogs to find exactly what you want. Don’t be fooled by bargains that are too good to be true, though. They may just turn out to be exactly that.
The quality of flowers depends on the quality of the bulbs you plant because the flower heads that will appear later are already formed within them. As a rule, larger bulbs give bigger flowers. Bear that in mind especially when you buy tulips and other such bulbs of the colder regions for planting in Southern areas. You have just one chance with them; they do not come back the next year unlike flowers like daffodils do.
If you plan on large plantings of bulbs, buy them in bulk at one go, but stagger the plantings over several weeks. Start from areas farthest from the house, and plant inwards, so that you’ll be working closer home as the weather deteriorates. Smaller bulbs like crocus get precedence over larger ones like daffodils. Plan to finish the plantings much earlier than the expected turn of the season because you never know when it could happen.
Fall is not too late for planting short-term leafy greens like spinach and lettuce for a quick harvest in about four weeks. If you have bald patches in the lawn, repair them by reseeding the spots.
2. Fall is feeding time.
Hoarding up for winter is not the prerogative of animals like squirrels and chipmunks alone. All plants are conserving their energy and storing up food, too, not just to tide over the winter, but to put out new growth in spring as well. Just look at the trees that shed their leaves to reduce their expenditure.
Lawns need regular watering and a feeding of high-nitrogen fertilizer early in fall, followed by a phosphorous-rich one toward the end of the season. Since evergreens don’t get to conserve energy by shedding their leaves, they would appreciate feeding and watering right up to winter.
3. Fall is for planning and preparing for future.
Now is the best time to plan and prepare the vegetable and flower patches for the next growing season. You can weed them first, and then fortify them with manure and compost so that it will be ready for spring planting. Fresh farm manure can burn the plants, so now is the time to put it in so that it gets a long window to break down. If you cover the area with a black plastic sheet afterwards, it would be deterrent to weeds, and save you a lot of work in the coming season.
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Planting a winter cover as a future investment is not a bad idea, either. Besides keeping weeds down, it will add to the fertility of the soil when you turn it in at the time of spring planting. Plants like clover have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules which will add to the fertility of the soil in the coming season.
4. Fall is clean-up time.
If you have quite a few deciduous trees growing in the garden, you will be greeted with an avalanche of leaves with every passing breeze. What a delightful sight, but how it does add to our work! Rake up the leaves and add them to the compost pile. Or turn it into mulch with the lawnmower. This exercise should be repeated regularly, especially on the lawn to avoid smothering it and promoting rot.
If you have fruit trees, fallen fruit can be a big problem unless cleared off promptly. They may be harboring insect larvae that can lead to a serious infestation later – and they can promote mold growth, too.
If you find diseased plants, dispose them off safely or burn them. Do not add them to your compost pile. Their spores may not get destroyed by the composting process.
As you clean up the ground of all the accumulated debris from the summer harvest, as well as the perennial dying off, look up at the trees, too. If you spot rot or disease on any branch, get rid of it immediately to prevent the spores from spreading. Weak branches in danger of breaking under the weight of snow should be lopped off now.
Extend your cleaning spree to any water bodies you may have. That includes ponds and birdbaths. Clean out the feeders and fill them up with a fresh supply well before winter sets in.
5. Fall is for winding up.
As we move toward the end of the season, winding up operations take over. Check to see whether you have completed all the above-the-ground harvesting. Root crops for winter harvest will be remaining in their spots, so cover them up with mulch. If you are likely to get a snow cover, mark the spots with stakes to make it easy to locate them later.
Think of all the spots in your garden that need mulching. If you have a berry patch, use layers of hay or straw to cover it up. You can lay down the long canes along the ground first. Climbing roses also can be treated this way. Young trees need not only mulch protection but extra support, too.
When you complete all the fall chores, clean up the tools and machines and put them away, marking the end of the season. If you sharpen the tools and service the machines now, it will give you a head start in spring. Drain off left-over fuel from the fuel tanks of mowers and other power equipment. Empty out all vessels and keep them upside down to avoid breakage.
A gardener’s work is never done, but if you plan the chores early and prioritize them, you can put up your feet and take a well-deserved rest, looking forward to spring.
What fall chore tips would you add to this list? Leave your reply in the section below: