When I first met Anniston’s master plantsman Hayes Jackson, I asked him how long he worked in the garden every day. He told me it was not work.
That’s now my philosophy. Thus, we will look at our fall gardening chores not as work, but as a means to a great finish.
Fall officially began on Sept. 22 and winter starts on Dec. 21, giving the gardener a long span of time to get the landscape ready for winter and the next growing season.
1. Get a soil test.
If you have not done a soil test within the last couple of years, fall is an excellent time. With the knowledge of your soil’s needs, you can apply whatever is appropriate (or skip what is not necessary) and give those chemicals time to work their magic before spring’s arrival.
2. Keep on waterin’.
The first weeks of fall mimic the last weeks of summer; continue to attend to the summer needs of the garden. Keep lawns, newly planted shrubs and containers watered; many gardeners are weary of watering but that job has to continue.
By the time the Halloween scarecrows appear on the shelves, ornamental plants may need less water; check the soil moisture before continuing your summer watering schedule.
3. Pull up summer annuals.
Most summer annuals tend to be bedraggled or gone by the time fall arrives. Pull them up. Purchase heat-tolerant fall perennials or even some fresh summer annuals.
Do not be tempted to plant pansies, a cool season annual, or florist mums in the first weeks of fall. Pansies will stretch and mums will melt, requiring massive doses of water to keep them perky.
When all else seems too much bother, mulch the empty spots.
4. Take cuttings from perennials.
Before the first frost (usually about Nov. 1), it is critical to take cuttings from perennials (or anything else) you would like to propagate. Hayes Jackson tells me that collecting cuttings is his top priority for fall. By next spring, all those cuttings will be beautiful new plants: free, too. Volunteers at Longleaf Botanical Gardens as well as the Tree Amigos program are already busy rooting cuttings for next spring’s plant sales.
5. Bring in houseplants.
Houseplants need to come in before nighttime temps drop into the 50s. They need a good bath to prevent bringing insects or diseases into the house.
6. Dig up caladium bulbs.
When nighttime temperatures drop into the high 50s, dig up caladiums bulbs, dry and store them in a nice warmish place to ride out the winter before replanting them next spring.
7. Plant cool season vegetables.
A fall vegetable garden should already be growing. There are, however, many cool season crops that can be planted, including turnips, spinach, collards and onions to the middle of October. Some of these can do well in containers as well as in the ground.
8. Start a compost bin.
Put together a simple or fancy compost bin. Pick up leaves that others drag to the street to add to your compost bin.
9. Gather pine straw.
Pine straw, another common cast off, makes an excellent mulch, a garden’s best friend. I always have buckets in my truck to stop and pick it up. I have even been seen raking up the street to bring home this precious “freebie.” When my sister and I were children, we were easily embarrassed as my mother picked up pine straw on the side of the road. Now, my sister and I are both guilty of that same activity; there is nothing more satisfying than a truck full of free pine straw.
10. Remove dead foliage.
Remove dead or dying foliage from your flower beds. Cleaning up your vegetable garden of spent foliage is critical to the health of your future crops. That old foliage may harbor diseases or insect pests; it has to go!
11. Empty the lawn mower.
Run any leftover gas out of your lawnmower to prepare it for winter. Something seems to happen to that old gas over the winter, which in our case invariably leads to a service call in the spring.
12. Save pansies and mums till October.
Mid- to late October can be a busy time. Cooler days and longer nights are the signal for installing color beds and containers of cheery pansies, the perfect antidote for the January blahs. Keep them watered until the rains start.
Mums will be sold everywhere; they do a fine job of lighting up the fall garden. Mums require regular water; in containers they may need it every single day.
13. Plant spring perennials.
Fall, especially October, is also a fine time to plant spring blooming perennials. To celebrate, some garden shops will have sales on spring perennials. These fall days are also a perfect time to divide perennials.
14. Wait till October to plant.
October (especially toward the end) marks the beginning of the best planting time in our area. (The second best is mid-winter.) By planting in the late fall, the gardener is able to take advantage of the annual growth patterns of plants. Plants can use their energy to grow good strong roots without the headaches of producing leaves and flowers and the stress of hot and dry days. Garden centers will be stocked with healthy ornamental shrubs and trees. Go forth and plant. If we do not get the rain, the gardener should provide the necessary moisture until winter’s rains start.
15. Plan for year-round color.
As you purchase new plants for your garden, make your choices to have year round color. Fall blooming Sasanqua japonicas are a wonderful sight mixed with the changing colors on your trees.
16. Don’t prune!
Fall is not the time to prune. Pruning promotes new growth that can get zapped by those inevitable fall frosts. Save pruning for late in the winter, when trees and shrubs are dormant.
17. Keep on rakin’.
Keep lawns raked and save those precious by-products for mulch or compost. A layer of mulch acts as a blanket in winter to keep your soil warmer and conserve moisture.
18. Fill up bird feeders.
As fall days get colder remember to keep your birds’ feeders full and provide a source of water for them also.
19. Plant spring bulbs after first frost.
By December, we should have had our first frost; time to plant spring-blooming bulbs such as daffodils and tulips.
20. Force bulbs for indoors.
Force some narcissus bulbs to use in the house; a bowl of blooming narcissus makes a wonderful gift for anyone who loves flowers.
21. Consider a living Christmas tree.
Instead of an artificial tree, choose a live one and plant it in your landscape after the holidays.
22. Curl up with a good catalog.
With all these fall tasks completed it is time to relax and study all those gardening catalogs coming in the mail.
Sherry Blanton is a member of the Calhoun County Master Gardeners association. Contact her at email@example.com.