Time to start putting the garden to bed

  I have mixed feelings about the coming of fall this year. After record heat and humidity in July and August I will welcome the cooler temperatures; but knowing this is leading to fewer daylight hours and the eventually closing of the doors and windows has me dread the coming months of staying inside and socially distancing. Nevertheless I will accept the fact that it is time for the annual ritual of putting our lawns, gardens and trowels to bed until next spring.

There are plenty of things that can still be done in the yard and garden in the next couple months, so as long as I can put on enough layers and boots I will be out there doing them.

 Most of us are familiar with the drill but here are a few reminders about things that should be done this fall to ensure our lawns and gardens reemerge strong and healthy next spring.

  • Early fall is an active growth period for your lawn. Sometimes the cooler temperatures encourage more and better growth than the hot, dry periods of summer. If you nurture the fall growth your lawn will be in better health going into the winter and will green up quicker in the spring. To ensure the health of your lawn avoid serious water stress. If we don’t have sufficient rain, be sure to keep watering the lawn right up until the ground freezes. The fall is also the best time to overseed bare spots and thin lawns; the soil is warmer than in the spring allowing for quicker germination of the seed. Be sure to rake and remove your leaves before the snow falls and the last mowing of the season should be a little bit shorter. Both of these practices will reduce the possibility of snow mold, a fungal disease that appears gray or pink in the lawn in the spring.
  • The primary fall chore is, of course, leaf raking. We are very fortunate to have the magnificent tree canopy that we do in our community; but we may not feel so fortunate when it comes to raking leaves. It can be a tedious and time consuming chore, and one that we may be inclined to skip; however I would advise you not to. Leaves left on your lawn will mat down and make the lawn more susceptible to snow mold. On the flip side, raked up leaves can be an asset to your lawn and garden if they are added to a compost pile or used to mulch your perennial beds. They can even be turned directly into a cleaned out vegetable or annual bed where they will add organic material and nutrients as they decompose. Whatever you do with the leaves do not rake them into the street where they can wash down the storm sewers and add unneeded phosphorous to our river and lakes. For that reason it is against city ordinances to rake leaves into the street even in advance of street sweeping.
  • In the garden, as long as the foliage on your perennials is still green it can make food and store it in the roots for next spring. In the past it was recommended that you cut the foliage once it has browned. Fall flowering plants, such as asters, mums and tall sedum may still be green and flowering when the snow flies, and often leave some winter interest in the landscape and seed heads for the birds. Tests now show that garden mums survive the winter better when the above ground dead plant stems are not removed in the fall. This also proves to be a beneficial technique to use with other herbaceous perennials. Annuals on the other hand have lived their lives and should be pulled up and composted or put in your lawn bags.
  • Fall is also the time to plant the spring flowering bulbs. This includes corms, rhizomes, tuberous roots and true bulbs. These hardy bulbs require a cold period to break their dormancy – our winter is their cold period. Plant these bulbs by mid-October so that they have time to grow roots before the ground freezes. The exception is tulips, which can be planted any time before the ground freezes. When planting your bulbs remember that they require warmth and bright light to break dormancy in the spring, thus those planted near foundations or on the west or south are likely to bloom first. While we are anxious to see our first flowers in spring, plants that bloom too early maybe damaged by spring frosts.

I, for one, intend to spend as much time outdoors as I can this fall, before the eventual closing of the doors and windows.