Fall is in the air! Cool mornings give way to hot days, and return to wonderful sleeping weather at night. The bugs and mosquitoes have left for the most part, breezes are steady and calming, and foliage is just starting to show a little bit of color. Apples are ready for picking, right on the end of the peaches. The autumn garden is a beautiful place.
Once your garden plants have started to peter out, it’s time to pull the spring annuals and cut back some of the perennials. Save those that have attractive or large seed heads; they are fun to look at in the winter, and can provide some extra snacks for our small feathered friends! If your garden has been healthy all year, with few disease or insect issues, the cuttings and old plants can go right into the compost pile, to be returned to the garden in a few years. It is best to destroy or burn any plant parts that may have had problems, so the organisms do not overwinter and get into the garden again next year.
September and October are the best months for planting spring bulbs. Try to get bulbs in the ground at least 6 weeks before the ground freezes. They will start putting down roots this fall and be ready to burst into color next spring! Fall is also a perfect time to plant other bulbous- and tuberous-rooted perennials like peonies, iris, and daylilies, as well as most any other plant. The soil is still warm enough that though there will not be any top growth, the roots will continue to grow and help the plant settle into its new home. It is still a good idea to add compost or cow manure, peat moss, and a little bit of low-nitrogen fertilizer when planting at this time of year, but do not add any fertilizers with a high nitrogen content. This will encourage leafy growth, which will not harden off in time for winter, and will do more damage to the plant than help.
Transplanting most trees, shrubs, and perennials can also be done at this time. Make sure the plant is well hydrated a few days before the move, and that it gets plenty of water after the transplant is completed.
The veggie garden is probably looking a little bit ragged at this point. Cucumbers and summer squash are pretty much done, and the vines should be pulled as they die back. Consider planting a quick crop of peas or baby carrots; there should be just enough time to get a small harvest in before the frost comes! Even if you don’t get peas, the nitrogen-fixing properties of legumes will help the garden for next spring. Asparagus tops should be cut when they start to yellow.
Any tender perennials or annual herbs like rosemary, basil, and lemon verbena can be grown in a sunny window, and you can still have fresh herbs all winter long. They should be dug and potted at this point, so they can get used to growing in pots before the weather turns too cold. Bring them in once there is a threat of frost, but they can still go outside on milder winter days.
Mulch perennial veggies, but not too deeply. Just enough to protect them and keep them frozen all winter long, till spring returns and the harvest can begin again.