At this time your garden is probably expressing the melancholy state of the growing season’s end, when fruit is ripening, perennials go dormant, and the rich abundance of summer starts to fade. Fortunately there are still plenty of faithful fall favorites to brighten up the day, such as mums and stone crops, and this blue ground cover beauty. In order to keep a bright outlook on gardening, there will be much work to be done at the beginning of fall. Here’s the list:
– clean, deadhead, weed (again!). Get rid of all the spent plants and anything that already turned brown.
– don’t forget to water, the garden is tired already, you don’t want it wasting
– gather seeds and fruit, there will be plenty of them
– don’t feed! the garden needs to ease its way into the winter dormancy
– plant cheerful fall annuals to keep the garden bright
– some of your favorite roses will start to bloom again, make sure they are healthy (we can make an exception about feeding roses, they might not bloom again otherwise). Roses are such wonderful plants that they will bloom through the first frost, long after other perennials have already gone dormant.
– if you don’t already have them, plan on getting some reliable late blooming perennials.
Any healthy, seed free plant material can go in the compost pile. You can also include grass clippings, if you don’t treat your lawn with herbicides. Adding vegetable scraps and eggshells will speed up the process of turning compost into fertile garden soil material, and adding well rotted manure will too. Layering plant material with a matter rich in nitrogen in 6″ layers will provide the optimal compost pile.
Unfortunately, the entire process doesn’t smell or look good, so you might consider a closed system with a wheel so that you can turn the compost without stirring up the smell. These systems are designed to speed up the process too, so you get compost sooner. Also, be courteous to your neighbors and place the system in a remote enough location where it won’t bother anybody.
How much and when?
Feeding: Some people like to compare the synthetic fertilizers with drugs. They have high potency and feed only the plant, which becomes dependent, not the soil, which in time deteriorates and does not replenish its resources to allow plants to thrive. If you have to use fertilizer, try an organic, slow release product twice a year, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t fertilize in the fall, except for newly planted bulbs. Plants need to adjust to going dormant and eating less. Otherwise, the best option for fertilizing would be your home made compost, which turns all your plant waste into a rich, nourishing material resembling top soil. Quick tip: you can drop plant material in not so visible locations of your flower beds and they will turn to compost without the pile and the smell, enriching the soil in place.
Watering: Some say that watering is a luxury, not a necessity, and the plants, other than the ones in containers, should be able to thrive on the rainwater available that year. I say if the dirt looks dry, water. There is nothing that looks sadder and more neglected than a garden full of wilted plants.
The summer garden has a more tired look than the exuberant garden of spring. It needs a little more care to look its best:
- make sure to water it often enough (if the plants look wilted or the dirt cracks, it has been too long)
- keep the plants deadheaded and remove the dead leaves from plants that go dormant after the spring bloom
- keep the weeds in check, they will sprout out of nowhere and take over if you let them
- feed the plants for a second wave of bloom
- wait for fall to move perennials, especially the larger clumps, heat can be very stressful for a transplanted plant.