By Kim Robson
Many of us carefully cultivate our gardens during the spring and summer, only to ignore them come fall and winter. In fact, fall is the best time to tackle many important projects. There are also plenty of crops like beets, bok choy, bush beans, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard that are harvested in the cooler months.
Fall is the best time of year to plant or transplant trees, shrubs and perennials. The warmer soil promotes root growth and — unlike with spring planting — there’s no potential for unexpected spring storms followed by a hot, dry summer to stress young plants. By now, the summer heat waves are finished, rainfall is more plentiful, and new trees and bushes have a better chance of surviving than had they been planted during the hottest season.
If you’re going to put down sod, fall is generally the best and cheapest time to do it. Your soil is probably also depleted, and now is a great time to add some compost. Some other tips follow:
Many nurseries offer dramatic discounts on their remaining container plants and other nursery stock, both to avoid over-wintering them, and to make space for Halloween pumpkin patches and Christmas tree lots. Don’t hesitate to ask for additional reductions on already discounted nursery stock.
Fall is also the time to shop for garden tools and equipment, with obvious exceptions of snow blowers, chain saws, and snow shovels. Check the “For Sale/Farm & Garden” section on Craigslist.org for used lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and other lawn and garden equipment, as many people dump their used equipment at the end of the season. If you’re interested in getting a big-ticket item like a garden tractor or riding mower, call area landscaping and equipment rental companies to see if they plan to sell off any of their used equipment during the off-season.
Fall is an excellent time to start a compost pile. You’ll have plenty of dead leaves, rotten pumpkins, and yard trimmings to dispose of before winter sets in. Building a compost pile can be as simple as staking up a hoop of three-foot-high chicken wire. After Halloween and Thanksgiving, look for leftover bales of straw on sale – or even left out for garbage collection. Straw makes great mulch and also can be added to the compost pile. Mulching garden beds with wood chips, straw or compost helps to retain ground moisture and warmth, protecting the plants wintering underneath. Your local landscaping and tree removal services might have mulch available in the fall for next to nothing.
Lawn and garden tools are expensive, and it pays to take care of your equipment. Fall is the perfect time to do this. Use a wad of tin foil to scrub dirt, rust, and vegetable matter from shovels, hoes, and other metal gardening tools. Don’t throw away the foil when you’re finished, either. You can sharpen your pruners and shears by simply cutting through the aluminum foil a few times. Use a cloth to spread a layer of motor oil on all metal parts. Put smaller tools, along with a couple of pieces of leftover charcoal, into a plastic bag to keep them from rusting.
Lawnmowers and other gas powered equipment should be cleaned thoroughly. Oil, along with air and fuel filters, should be changed. Add a fuel stabilizer like Sta-Bil to the gasoline in the tank. This keeps the gas fresh and prevents condensation.
Fall is the time to dig up and divide springtime flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocuses and irises. Many trees, shrubs and perennial plants and vegetables can be divided also. Once perennials mature, dividing the plants will make them healthier and create multiple new ones from the original, all for free. Perennials first should be thoroughly watered before the entire plant is dug out of the ground, with its root ball intact. The root ball then should be separated into smaller plants by pulling it apart with a pitch fork or even cutting it apart with a spade. Then, smaller plants should be replanted immediately in the ground and watered again.
Planning a new deck, patio, greenhouse, or landscape makeover? Summer is much too hot for this, especially if you are to do the work yourself. Home improvement centers have very competitive fall deals on materials like pressure-treated lumber, outdoor paving supplies, and landscaping components. If you’re looking to hire a contractor, it’s a buyer’s market in the fall compared with the spring and summer, when contractors tend to have more work than they can handle. Get multiple estimates from different contractors and start a bidding war between them!
Best of luck with your fall gardening projects and, most importantly, have fun!