“Getting ready for fall” is the mantra that every gardener repeats over and over again at this time of year.
In the fall, there is a special aroma of renewal in the air. It is the time of returning to school, no matter what your age, a time of stepping back and taking stock of what succeeded in the garden during the past year and what failed, a time for charting a new course. You learn from your past experiences and vow to make your next garden different from everything that has come before.
The spring garden has its beginnings in the fall. Failed plants should be cut up and left on the soil as mulch. The minerals in their leaves and stems will eventually be released into the soil, where they can nurture new plantings.
Perennials may be divided at this time, whether they be day lilies, agapanthus, shasta daisies, gazanias, periwinkle (Vinca major), or yarrow (Achillea). All of these plants grow well in containers so if you have no space in your garden for them to grow and expand, you may consider putting them in patio pots.
Trim back climbing or invasive plants that have usurped the territory of slower-growing species. Once it has established a foothold, star jasmine can become a rampantly growing, terribly uncouth garden occupant. Now is the time to take pruning shears in hand and assert yourself with star jasmine, bougainvillea, ivy and other invasive plants. Do not allow ground covers such as red apple ice plant to grow around tree trunks or into shrubs. Instead, make sure a circle of mulch extends to the the drip line – the outer edges of the leaf canopy – that surrounds each tree and shrub.
This is the time to remove all diseased stems and leaves from your rose bushes. The fungal spores that cause most rose diseases will overwinter on the plant and start growing again in the spring, keeping your roses in a state of mildew and blight during next year’s growing season. Make sure to deposit all diseased portions of plants in the trash because they will survive quite well in all but the hottest compost piles.
Fall fertilization for all garden plants at this time of year will result in slow, even growth, which is far healthier for a plant than the rampant growth that often follows spring fertilization. Keep in mind that fertilization after the first week in October could be risky since new growth could be killed back by an early November frost.
Fall maintenance of container-bound plants has its own special requirements. As the hours of sunlight diminish, you may have to move plants into a more sun-splashed exposure if they are to exhibit healthy growth. It would also be advisable to cut down on watering container plants due to shorter days. Stagnant water in containers can quickly lead to root rot. By the same token, watering of containers must be attended to, albeit on a limited basis, since container plants can succumb rapidly enough to soil dehydration at any time of the year.
Finally, if you suspect that you have any top-heavy trees, you would be wise to consult with an arborist. Do not wait for the first storm of the season to knock off some of your tree’s branches before you take an interest in pruning it.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Start planting bulbs now. Plant them three times deeper than the greatest diameter of the bulb. For example, crocus bulbs that usually have about a 1-inch diameter should be planted three inches deep. Put bulb fertilizer into each planting hole. Make sure your soil is well-drained. It is virtually impossible to overplant a bulb garden. For maximum effect, bulbs should be planted cheek by jowl in the bed.