Ideas for Fall Gardening

Shush….don’t tell anyone yet, but the sun is just as high in the sky now and the days are just as long now as they were in late March. Oh, no! Could fall be here? We seem to have a slow arriving autumn this year, but sooner or later (and probably sooner) it will be time for some fall gardening.

Here are our suggestions for chores to do this fall:

Plant giant allium in fall for a great spring show.

Plant giant allium in fall for a great spring show.

Plant spring bulbs.  Now is a great time to plant for some spring color. Tulips, daffodils, crocus, and the minor spring bulbs such as fritillaria, squill, snow drops, and glory of the snow (Chinodoxia) can be planted now through mid-October. The minor bulbs look pretty naturalized in lawns and most of them will be done blooming before you have to mow the grass.

Swap out the plants and pumpkin for some holiday decor and you've got a container for all winter.

Swap out the plants and pumpkin for some holiday decor and you’ve got a container for all winter.

Change out your containers. I did this last week, and what a difference it makes to replace those tired plants with some bright asters and a pretty ornamental cabbage. Many summer containers look tired now—so change them out by ripping out the spent or overgrown annuals and adding a mum, a couple of pumpkins or squash, even some branches to give them a fall look. You can change them again with branches and more for a winter look.

Cut back perennials selectively. No sight in the garden is as sad as a perennial bed beheaded in the fall. Some plants don’t look good after the first frost and should be cut back (hostas and daylilies, for example, and many annuals) but others add texture and shape to the garden all winter. I apply the “cap theory” when deciding what to cut back. If a plant would look good in a cap of snow, it can stay. So plants like large sedums, coneflowers, and Joe Pye weed remain standing until spring. Also leave up sunflowers, grasses and plants that might provide food or shelter for birds.

Bring in summer bulbs. Tuberous begonias, dahlias and other summer-blooming bulbs cannot survive a Minnesota winter outside. But you can keep them going by bringing them indoors after the first frost. While some bulbs have specific requirements, generally they do best when their stems are cut back to 1 inch or so and they are stored in a cool, but not freezing place.

Turn and gather compost. If you have a compost pile, give it a good turning and gather any finished compost from the bottom. This can be spread on both vegetable and flower gardens for a boost in soil health.

Harvest vegetables. As harvest time ends, cut down vegetable plants. I leave the roots of beans and any plants that aren’t diseased in the ground to improve the soil. Compost or toss the foliage and rotten veggies.

Amsonia, asters, annuals make for a pretty fall garden.

Amsonia, asters, annuals make for a pretty fall garden.

Clean up the garden. On a sunny fall day, give the garden a good weeding. Spread compost or mulch, if you’d like.

What are your must-do fall chores?

—Mary Lahr Schier

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