Fall is well in hand. Nights are cool, some days are foggy and rainier than we usually appreciate, but it’s still gardening season! Autumn sunny days are some of the most comfortable to work in; it’s easy to spread mulch and compost without working up too much of a sweat, and weeds pull so easily out of moist soil. There’s plenty you can do and plenty to do in the garden before things freeze up and we go back into hibernation with the plants… Make sure to take some time to enjoy all the different colors and textures that the fall garden has to offer.
This time of year, we’re sneaking into the realm of nighttime frosts. Make sure any houseplants that summer vacation outside or any tender herbs that you want to keep through the winter get brought in at night! All it takes is one cold night to set back or kill some of those tender sub-tropical plants like citrus, mandevilla, and hibiscus, and turn your basil black. Rosemary can take a heavy frost, but generally will not make it through our Maine winters.
Early October is a perfect time to put a light application of fertilizer or compost on your lawn. A fertilizer that has a calcium component or higher potassium will promote strong roots and strengthening of tops, helping the grass plants store more energy to grow in spring. An organic fertilizer will slowly release, providing food right up until everything goes dormant.
Weeds, leaves, and debris should all be cleaned out of the gardens. If you haven’t been keeping up with your weeding, they may have gone to seed, which means many many more weeds next summer. Leaves and plant debris should be removed from the beds, as it provides potential harbor for insects, diseases, and fungi, as well as mice and other small rodents, which might be tempted to nibble on the delicious roots and crowns of your favorite garden plants. A top dressing of compost, manure, or mulch will help the soil for next spring, and make the garden look a little bit cleaner when the snow melts away. The veggie garden should be cleaned out, except for any garlic or onions that might be overwintering, and it is a good idea to plant a quick-growing cover crop like red clover or winter rye; these help keep the wonderful rich garden soil from washing away in spring rains, and as a bonus can be tilled into the soil in the spring as a green manure.
Fall is the time to divide your perennials, and also to get rid of any perennials or shrubs that just aren’t doing well. Don’t feel guilty! Some plants just might not be suited to growing where they were planted, so plant them somewhere else, or give them to a friend, or just get rid of them if they’re too much bother…
Get spring bulbs in the ground as soon as possible. They will start producing roots as long as the soil is warm, which will give them a boost when spring comes around and they come into their glorious bloom. If it wasn’t done in the spring, now is a good time (if you can find the clumps) to dig and divide last year’s spring bulbs. Make sure all bulbs are nice and firm, free of holes or soft spots. Summer bulbs that aren’t hardy should also be lifted at this point; gladiolus and dahlia will overwinter just fine if kept in a cool, dry place.
Prune any dead wood off your shrubs and trees as soon as possible. In a winter storm, this will generally be the first thing to go, and sometimes it does not go nicely. Fertilizing trees and shrubs now will strengthen roots and help produce better blooms next spring too.
Make sure all the garden tools are cleaned and oiled before they are put away! It’s much nicer to just grab a shovel and head to the garden in the spring than having to clean a bunch of rust off the scoops and blades.