If you think fall means putting away your trowel and rake, think again. Preparing the garden for the winter as well as next spring is an important part of planning for its future.
And just because the days are getting shorter and cooler doesn’t mean you should overlook fall planting of vegetable crops that will be ready to harvest long before Thanksgiving.
Bulbs are the order of business for new flowers that will start producing colorful blooms in early spring. Look for crocuses, daffodils, tulips, alliums, irises, hyacinths, lilies and more in garden centers and big box stores such as Costco.
The beauty of bulbs is that they are considered nearly impossible to mess up. Just remember to plant the pointy end up. That’s it. Plant larger bulbs about 8 inches deep and smaller ones about 5 inches underground. No fertilizer is needed for the first year.
Bulbs should be planted as soon as the ground is cool, when evening temperatures average between 40 to 50 degrees. For a dramatic effect, plant them in clusters.
If vegetables are more to your liking, there are several cold-weather varieties that do very well in the fall. The easiest are radishes, which take only 30 days to harvest from seed. Carrots, beets, peas and turnips also do well, but will take longer to mature.
Leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, chard and lettuce can be grown through the winter as long as they are protected. As they develop in the fall, leaves can be cut off and eaten as the plant continues to thrive.
The important thing is to keep the ground moist until the seeds germinate, and as the plants develop, mulch around them to keep weeds out and moisture in.
These fall vegetables will tolerate a light frost, do well in shorter daylight hours and grow best with mild temperatures.
There’s something special about planting turnip seeds in the ground and a couple of months later pulling up the large, bulbous white bulb to eat. Bragging rights are definitely in order if used for the Thanksgiving meal.
Root vegetables such as turnips, carrots and radishes tend to have a longer shelf life after harvested. So keep them in a cool, dry place or your refrigerator and they may last until Christmas.
Fall is also a good time for planting most trees. The temperatures are cooler, which produces less stress on the trees and gives the roots a better chance to get established.
After the tree is planted, be sure to protect it from the cold by placing mulch down once the ground has frozen. Use bark chips or leaves near the tree but not up against the trunk as that can cause fungus to grow.
For many mature trees, branches should be pruned in the fall. Thin rather than eliminate full branches as flower buds have already been formed and heavy pruning reduces the next spring’s flower output.
The same goes for bushes, both flowering and otherwise. Evergreens, hydrangeas, buddleias and hundreds more will do better and stand a better chance of survival if planted in the fall rather than in summer.
If you’re looking for additional color and fresh blooms this fall, mums are the perfect solution. The bushy flowers come in numerous colors and can fill in holes produced by spent summer plantings.
Also recommended for curb appeal are decorative kale and cabbage, Montauk daisies, dusty millers and asters. Pansies are quite hardy and look great on borders or in window boxes. They also come in numerous colors to add a fresh look to the garden.
Another fall chore that will expand your garden is dividing plants. During autumn, it is recommended to divide the peony, lily-of-the-valley, Japanese iris and Asiatic and oriental lily.
Dig up a full plant and divide it, making sure the roots remain intact. Replant the mother plant and plant the divided growth wherever you want. Make sure they receive plenty of moisture in the fall and mulch in the winter.
Lawn care should not be overlooked in the fall, either. This is the best time to prepare lawns for next spring. During this time of year, grass absorbs energy, moisture and nutrients to prepare for a long, dormant winter.
• Keep mowing. Continue to mow and water the lawn. As it gets colder, lower the blade for the last two cuttings of the year to allow more sunlight in.
• Aerate the soil. This allows more oxygen, water and fertilizer to reach the grass roots. The machines can be rented at gardening centers.
• Rake leaves. Better to do early and throughout the season to avoid fungal disease and allow the grass to breathe.
• Fertilize. If you fertilize grass only once a year, do it in the fall. It delivers nutrients so the grass can grow deep roots. The best time to apply is mid to late fall.
• Fill in. It’s time to remedy those bald spots in the lawn. Buy a lawn repair mixture that includes grass seed and fertilizer. Loosen the soil in the affected area and spread a thick layer of the mixture. Lightly compact and water thoroughly. Water every other day for two weeks.
• Control weeds. Use a herbicide on weeds like dandelions. They won’t return in the spring.
The latest natural remedy to kill weeds going around the internet that everyone is swearing by calls for:
1 gallon white vinegar
2 cups Epsom salt
1/4 cup Blue Dawn dish soap
Mix and spray on weeds. Users say it only works with Blue Dawn. You be the judge.
If you’d like to learn more about maintaining a healthy lawn without using artificial fertilizers and pesticides, the Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing is planning several workshops this fall to discuss the benefits of composting:
• Sept. 13 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the garden, 43-50 Main St. The cost is $5 and registration is required by calling (718) 539-5296. The topic is fall lawn care.
• Sept. 16 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Douglaston Library, 249-01 Northern Blvd. Call to register, (718) 225-8414. It’s free.
• Oct. 4 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the QBG. Registration required. The cost is $5.