16 ESSENTIAL FALL GARDEN TASKS
- When available, pop ‘Icicle’ pansies into spots where summer annuals have been cleared out. They will bloom until December, then lie down for the winter. Cover them with evergreen cuttings until earliest spring, when they’ll be ready to sprout new flower buds.
- Leaves are garden gold. Spread small leaves of trees, such as honeylocust, birch, beech, ginkgo and silver maple (or shredded large Norway maple leaves), under shrubs and over all exposed soil. They will degrade into mineral nutrients; worms will turn them into fertilizer.
- Take a gamble and throw seeds of hardy annuals where you want them to bloom next year. Larkspur, poppies, cleome and cosmos will frequently take root from seeds sown in autumn and conditioned under winter snow.
- Plant bulbous Asiatic and Oriental lilies in late fall to ensure flower bud set. When planting is delayed until spring they may not get enough chilling and come up blind, with no flowers.
- Wait until the soil has frozen before mulching autumn-installed plants. After freeze-up, a thick mulch of leaves and evergreen cuttings will keep their root balls safe from the heaving action of frost.
- Lift big, fibrous clumps of summer phlox, hostas and Siberian irises and divide with a sharp spade or knife; tease apart fleshy roots of daylilies. Late-blooming perennials such as Michaelmas daisies and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), purchased in bloom, can go directly into garden beds (see #5).
- Plant garlic in October, in a sunny spot with lots of manure dug in. Set individual cloves eight centimetres deep and 15 centimetres apart, and mulch with five to eight centimetres of leaves. Hard-neck Rocambole garlics such as ‘Music’ are the hardiest strains, and, when planted in October, can be harvested in July, just as the first cherry tomatoes turn red.
- Autumn is a good time for planting evergreen trees and shrubs. The evergreens’ root systems pump water all winter, so be sure to water them well before the ground freezes. And don’t hesitate to purchase deciduous flowering shrubs at discounted prices. Even after a summer in containers, they’ll adapt and make strong root growth in cool autumn soil.
As autumn leaves drift by your window, it may be tempting to look outside and think idle thoughts about nature taking care of itself. But like the rest of us, Mother Nature needs a good kick in the pants once in a while. Here are some fall do’s and dont’s, plus tips to help your garden get a jump-start on spring.