The days are still warm, but the nights are cool. Raking is a major part of the yard work to be done this time of year, and the shorter days tend to make us a little sleepy in the evenings. It’s time to rest, and it’s time for the garden to rest, too.
With all things, however, success depends on preparation, and this is the time of year to prepare for the next successful growing season. The 2017 season starts now!
Here is your fall garden checklist.
As the gardens begin to senesce and the colors fade away, we tend to think that the season for outdoor plants is over and we can retreat to our warm houses and begin to hibernate. Not quite! We still need to water, especially trees and shrubs, until the ground freezes solid. Fall tends to be a dry time of year, and plants will do best with adequate moisture to keep them strong and healthy. Think of it as the first step in next year’s growing season.
Cut back, clean up.
Decide which plants to cut back and which to leave standing. Consider cutting back day lilies and hosta since their foliage can be a nuisance in the spring and, frankly, can be quite gross to clean out after thawing. If you’d like, leave coneflowers and Black Eyed Susans for bird food and grasses and yarrow for winter interest.
Clean plant debris, especially diseased leaves and fallen fruit, out of the garden. Compost any healthy plant material, but throw away anything diseased.
It’s important to know what not to cut, too. If you prefer, cut down the tall stems of the plants listed, but leave basil foliage and rosettes as these protect the crown of the plant through winter. In spring, cut off any dead foliage.
Divide and conquer.
Some perennials prefers to be divided in fall, so if these are overgrown or overcrowded in your gardens, now is the time!
- Astilbe (use a hand saw)
- Asiatic lily
- Oriental lily
- Lily of the valley
- Peony (use a hand saw)
- Siberian and Japanese iris – dividing established plants will encourage more prolific blooms
Time to plant spring flowering bulbs. Consider it planting yourself a present, and just like opening a gift you’ll have something new to enjoy in the spring! If your planting daffodils, get them in right away – they need more time than other bulbs to establish roots and bloom next year. Other bulbs to plant now include tulips, grape hyacinths, fritillaria, allium (the giant varieties are almost never sold in pots, so now is your chance!), crocus and iris. For successive blooms, layer small bulbs on top of large bulbs. Smaller bulbs tend to bloom earlier than larger, so layering provides longer bloom time.
In general, plant bulbs two to three times their width deep. So imagine two or three bulbs stacked on top of the one you’re planting – that’s the correct depth. (Or follow package instructions. That works, too). Plant pointy side up! If you can’t tell which end is up, plant them sideways. They’ll figure it out.
Use a bulb planter to make the work easier, and fertilize with Bulb-tone or bone meal to give your bulbs a healthy start.
Don’t forget about garlic, too! The varieties of garlic hardy to Minnesota are nothing like the basic white garlic sold in stores – they are worlds better. Everything sings with home-grown garlic, so don’t let your veggie garden off that easy. Instead plant garlic to enjoy next summer.
It’s not too late to plant perennials, trees and shrubs, too. In fact, now is an ideal time to plan and plant for the winter garden. Think red and yellow twig dogwoods, witch hazel and hydrangeas for winter interest. If you choose to plant at this time, just be sure to continue to water well and apply a chucky mulch.
Usually, plenty of snow falls throughout the winter and acts as a natural mulch. In years like the last one, however, too little snow cover can cause damage to plant roots and crowns.
To protect your plants, mulch the gardens after several hard frosts and once the ground has frozen solid. This keeps the frost in the ground and protects roots from going through a freeze/thaw cycle. Mulch with straw, marsh hay, or shredded leaves to a depth of 6 to 8 inches to provide the best protection. This is especially important for those marginally hardy items that we try to sneak into our Zone 4 climate.
Protect trees and shrubs.
Wrap shrubs that are sensitive to winter burn, such as arborvitae and boxwood, with burlap. Wrap trunks to protect tender bark from rodents. Don’t prune – now is not the right time.
A few more tips:
- Make a map and label plants.
- Seed the lawn.
- Dig and store tender bulbs and tubers such as cannas, elephant ears and dahlias.
- For one last harvest, place unripe produce inside paper bags and keep in the house until ready to eat.
- Clean and pack away tools.
- Cover or store statuary and bird baths.
Remember, this is really the beginning to the next gardening season. But be sure to take some time to relax and enjoy your fall garden!