By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
With the arrival of the cooler fall weather, gardening thoughts start turning towards ignoring the garden and leaving the clean-up until spring.
Well, there still are a number of gardening tasks that can be carried out on the pleasant autumn days right up until the ground freezes.
Certainly yard and garden clean-up should be at the top of the list. Dead vegetable and flowering annual plants have been accumulating, and all the leaves from trees will be coming down soon!
Most of the material can be used in the compost pile, then the finished compost can be used as a soil amendment to help future plantings.
Dead plant material also can be used as mulch or directly worked into the soil without composting. Chopping the materials helps them decompose faster for all uses.
Backyard composting is a fairly simple process. Just remember to mix the dead brown plant materials with green material, such as grass clippings or nitrogen fertilizer, to ensure the composting process carries on throughout the winter. Adequate moisture, air, and pile volume also are needed to keep things “cooking and processing” properly.
You may have to water your composter between now and freeze-up if Mother Nature doesn’t provide adequate rainfall.
Fall is a great time to spread the compost you made from last fall’s clean-up and all of the summer plant and organic waste material.
Once the perennials are trimmed up for the winter and the annual plants are removed from your garden, distribute a top-dressing of compost on the exposed soil within your garden. You can leave the compost as it is or mix it in lightly with a rake or claw to allow for transfer of the nutrients to the soil.
If you do not have compost, you can purchase bagged manure and apply it the same way.
Another option is a good fall fertilizer (this is a fertilizer high in potassium for promoting strong roots). Potassium is the last number of the three in a fertilizer ratio.
A tip to remember N-P-K is that N= nitrogen = spring = good leaf growth; P = phosphorus = summer good growth for fruit and flowers; K= potassium = fall = root growth in preparation for winter.
Remember what I always say about fertilizer—buy a good quality product and apply exactly according to the directions.
Fall also is the time to start getting your perennial garden ready for winter. If you’ve planned your garden well, there still may be some plants flowering, such as Autumn Joy sedum, pansies, fall chrysanthemums, asters, or maybe flowering kale.
Leave these plants intact if they are still blooming to enjoy right up until snowfall.
A garden that’s been well-maintained all summer shouldn’t require much work in the fall. But if you’ve let your garden get overgrown and weedy, now is the time to clean it up. Remove all weeds now to get a jump on the weeding next spring and prevent some weeds from coming back.
Cut back perennials right to the ground. I cut back all of my perennials in the fall to save the work in the early spring, but do not cut back your roses or clematis until spring, though.
Some gardeners like to enjoy some types of perennials for their shape or seeds that form in late fall. If you have some perennials like this, then do not trim those, either. Other gardeners like to trim their perennials to one-third now and to ground in the spring.
Many gardening books recommend this mostly for trapping snow cover over the plants in winter, but we get enough snow in our region that it will cover the plants whether they are trimmed or not.
I have always trimmed my perennials right to the ground in the fall and have never seen any adverse effects from this annual practice.
Most importantly in the fall is to make sure your garden soil is well saturated. Because the plants have stopped growing and are dying off, most gardeners neglect to continue to water their gardens. But trees, shrubs, and perennials need to have adequate water right up until the ground freezes.
We had a very dry summer, so it is imperative to continue watering perennials, shrubs, and trees until a hard freeze occurs, especially newly-planted or divided materials.
Plants should not go into winter with insufficient water around the roots. Plants that are watered well thoroughly freeze in the ground, preventing frost heaving and rapid thawing in the spring.
This will help to ensure your perennials survive the winter.
The end of summer marks the season when the yard and garden chores have been greatly reduced, but make sure you follow these last-of-the-season tips and tasks to ensure you have the best-looking yard and garden next spring.