The days are growing shorter and colder, and your mailbox is already full of winter catalogs. You might think your garden chores are finished for the season. Think again. The garden year actually begins with the misty, mellow days of autumn.
Spring only seems like
the perfect time to resume work on your landscape. After all, garden
centers are overflowing seductively with flowering plants, community
groups plan Arbor Day celebrations and all around, you can hear
lawnmowers chomping on fast-growing grass.
planting trees and shrubs in the spring gives the plants very little
time to overcome transplant shock and develop essential root systems
before summer's scorching heat and dry conditions.
is the ideal and appropriate time to plant and transplant trees,
shrubs and many perennials. In fact, it is important to get both
broad-leaved and needle-leaved evergreens in the ground no later than
mid-autumn. Species like holly, spruce, juniper, pine, fir and hemlock
do not enter a dormant phase. Instead, they continue to transpire
actively through their leaves during winter, which requires fully
functioning root systems capable of taking water from the soil.
as soon as possible allows roots to reestablish vital root hairs or
fibers, which will begin supplying water. This is especially important
for any plant with a root system that may have been damaged while
being dug up for transplanting. Moreover, fall planting gives
transplants two full growing seasons to become settled in before the
dog days of summer. Water thoroughly after planting – and keep
watering every week, if dry conditions ensue.
and transplanting deciduous trees and shrubs — like maples, dogwoods,
lilacs, hydrangea and viburnum — is best done after their leaves have
fallen, signaling dormancy. Without the burden of supplying water and
nutrients to leaves and branches, the tree can focus on growing new
roots and preparing for blooming and leafing out in spring.
is also the season for planting almost all hardy spring-flowering
bulbs, such as tulips, scilla, crocuses, hyacinths and narcissus, which
includes daffodils and jonquils. Some gardeners prefer digging
individual holes for each bulb, especially with more formal species like
tulips. Prepare a hole two-and-one-half times deeper than the bulb’s
diameter. Before setting the bulb in place, toss in a handful of
bonemeal or a dose of a “complete fertilizer,” then fill in the hole.
better approach for other bulbs might be to treat them like
perennials. Prepare a well-drained planting area or bed by removing any
weeds and debris and topping the area with four to six inches of
compost. Incorporate the compost into the existing soil with a shovel,
spade or rototiller, working the amendment down into the top 10 or 12
inches of existing earth. Then insert the bulbs into the fluffy,
organically-rich planting medium, preferably in groups or clumps — far
more attractive than formal rows Many gardeners use this type of
preparation to “naturalize” bulbs like crocus and daffodils, thereby
creating a flow of bright, nodding blooms between trees on a lawn, or
down a hillside. Such plantings, also called “drifts,” are often seen
along parkways and in natural garden areas.
renovate or rethink your lawn during the fall as well. If you have not
worked on it in autumn, anything you do in spring will be too little
and too late. Start by investing in a simple $5-10 soil test through
your local cooperative extension service office. The test will provide
complete and sound directions for applying lime and fertilizer.
Remember that autumn is the best and sometimes the only time to feed
Like trees and shrubs, grass plants
continue to develop roots throughout winter. Feeding the roots and
aiding their development now will ensure a healthier, more
drought-tolerant lawn come spring and summer.
could also do with a breath of fresh air about now. Consider
contracting with a landscaper to core aerate the lawn, or rent an
aerator and do it yourself. The process, which normally costs less than
$100 regardless of who does the work, will remove plugs from the soil
and allow air to infiltrate deeper into the ground and stimulate
grass roots. The small holes will improve drainage and help nutrients
and organic matter — such as grass clippings and leaves — work their
way into the soil horizon.
You also can add valuable
organic matter to your lawn by mulching or grinding up leaves with a
mower. Otherwise, rake up fallen leaves and other debris and add them
to the compost pile to prevent the spread of fungal diseases during
the wet winter months.
If your lawn has been a
disappointment, cut it down to size. Autumn is the perfect time to
create new planting beds. Either remove sod with a shovel or leave it
in place and smother it with cardboard and newspaper. Apply six, eight
or more inches of mulch over the top of the bed and walk away. Worms
and microorganisms will gobble up grass, roots and mulch while you sip
hot cocoa indoors, leaving you with a brand-new planting area to play
with in spring. Instead of complaining about your lawn, spend winter
thumbing through colorful garden and seed catalogs.
Copyright 2013, Joseph M. Keyser