The cool days of fall are pleasant ones to spend in your garden. This is a good time to do some planting and planning as well as taking care of a few end of the season chores.
To help yourself remember how your garden looked last spring, either draw and label a bubble map noting the location of each plant or take a few photos. Since many perennials are slow to emerge from their roots in the spring, eager gardeners sometimes plant right over them. This is a good time to make notes of any ideas or changes you want to make next year.
“Late summer and early fall is an ideal time to plant perennials,” says Hans Reelick, owner of Hollandia Nursery in Bethel. “It’s a good time to get them established, but don’t forget to water them weekly.” The ground still holds the warmth of summer, which encourages the roots to grow, and it is usually soft and dry, making it easier to plant now rather than in spring’s wet and mushy soil. The warm days and cool nights along with the regular autumn rains give them a head start.
Fall is a good time to divide crowded clumps of perennials such as hostas, phlox and daylilies. It can be a messy job, but because these plants are dormant, they will adjust to having their roots separated.
Dig up and store tender summer bulbs such as dahlias and gladioli. Brush off the dirt, (don’t wash them as this may cause them to rot over the winter), and store in a cool, dry place.
Weed your flower beds well … this will make it harder for them to grow back next spring. If you’re planning to start another garden, prepare these empty beds with compost and manure.
Once there has been a killing frost, pull up dead annuals and any perennials that may have been attacked by insects or have a fungal disease. It’s important to bag or burn them, rather than throw them on the compost pile.
Cut your perennials back to three inches, and sprinkle a few inches of compost around their crowns. This will enrich the soil and make the energy flow from the upper plant to the root system where it will be stored during the winter.
“The worst thing that can happen to perennials over the winter is for water to collect and do damage to the plant,” says Reelick. “Mound up the existing mulch in your garden around the plants.
If you decide to mulch your garden, use protective layers of straw, pine branches, or deep layers of chopped and shredded leaves. Do not use whole leaves as these can form a mat that water can’t penetrate. Don’t do this too early as mice will move into this cozy environment and dine on your plants.
There is no need to cut back ornamental grasses now. “They can look beautiful when covered with frost,” says Tim Callis, a Cape Cod-based landscape designer. “When they begin to look tired and miserable, it’s time to cut them down. Don’t wait until too late as you want to make room for the new growth.”
“As a general rule of thumb, the best time to plant bulbs is between mid-September and mid-October,’ advises Kris Barker, owner of The Gardener’s Center in Darien. “Adding a bulb food and animal repellent at the time of planting greatly increases your chances of winter survival, improved bloom performance and protection from hungry animals.”
Scatter the bulbs to give them individual space for adequate sunlight and bulb growth. Daffodils (Narcissus) are the first major flowers of spring. They’re well loved because not only are they beautiful but they’re immune to diseases, pests, and deer.
Plant a cluster of snowdrops or crocuses where the snow is most likely to melt first. For something different try planting specialty bulbs such as anemones, delicate camassias, Spanish bluebells, scilla, and the ornamental onion, allium.
The general rule is to plant each bulb at a depth of three times the height of the bulb, but check the packages the bulbs come in as each individual species varies.
When spring arrives, you’ll thank yourself for doing these maintenance chores now. Until then, sit back, enjoy the winter season, and wait patiently for the gardening catalogs to start appearing in your mailbox.