Fall is the perfect time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials; the weather is cooler, rain more plentiful, and the soil is still warm. Plants put out an amazing amount of root growth, giving above-ground growth a head start in spring. In fact, a fall planted perennial usually gains about one year in growth over a spring planted perennial of the same variety.
Clean up spent foliage from roses, peonies, and any plant with diseased foliage. But be sure to not compost these diseased leaves; the pile may not get hot enough throughout the winter to cook the pathogens.
Dividing spring-blooming plants such as German, dwarf and Siberian iris, dianthus, lamium, and primrose is recommended at this time of year. There is still plenty of time to get their roots established and happy. Later blooming perennials that can also be divided in fall include black-eyed Susan, hardy geraniums, day lilies, hosta, yellow and purple coneflowers, and yarrows.
Be sure to leave in the garden seed heads of purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, sunflowers, and other plants whose seeds or berries feeds birds through the winter.
By tossing seeds of hardy annuals like larkspur, snapdragons, California poppies and cosmos in the garden, you may be surprised to see how many will come up the following spring. An added benefit, often you can see dramatic markdowns on seeds at garden centers at this time of year, saving on your budget!
Gather up fallen leaves and add to compost piles or mulch directly on flower and vegetable gardens. Even throughout the winter the leaves will break down, adding valuable nutrients to the soil and will attract and feed scores of worms to enrich your soil. The exception to adding leaves to gardens and compost piles is if the leaves are from black walnut trees. These leaves contain juglone which is often fatal to other plants.
If you wish to grow garlic, plant the cloves in late fall. Planting about 5 inches deep and about a hand width apart will allow you to harvest delicious homegrown garlic next summer.
If you have access to chicken, cow or horse manure, be sure to add to your garden. It will break down over winter and be ready to feed your plants with valuable nutrients the following spring.
Be sure to try to remove weeds before they set seed. Once those weed seeds get released into your fertile soil, they will grow like….weeds.
Next year plan ahead and have seeds and seedlings ready for a second crop. Plants like cauliflower, broccoli, peas, spinach and lettuce can all be replanted for a repeat, using the same space in the garden for twice as much food.
Develop a garden journal where you can record successes and failures. That way you won’t have to try to remember which tomato variety did so well (or too well!) or what bean you didn’t really care for.