Fall Reinvigorates the Garden
I embrace the fall. As much as I love the summer garden, I enjoy watching plants be reinvigorated by cooling temperatures and increasing moisture each fall. The colors faded by the hot summer sun glow once again in the crisp autumn air. I enjoy waiting for the blossoms of the plants that herald the end of the growing season with their late-season blossoms like the hardy chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink,’ which blooms into November.
I enjoy the fall because it is a time of action! Finally, I can relocate plants and plant others in their place. The thoughts and ideas I harbor all summer can come to fruition in the fall.
In early October, I divide any perennials that are outgrowing the space they are allowed and then mulch the replants well to protect the roots from the imminent cold temperatures. Like everyone else I replant or share the extras with neighbors or fellow gardeners. A neighbor of my daughter’s places her extra divisions out by the street in a wheelbarrow offering them to any passerby - such a simple act of kindness and a great way to pass along plants! I always wash the roots of gift plants clean of soil before replanting to prevent soil borne problems from being transported from one garden to another. I wash and sterilize any garden tools used during the process as well with isopropyl rubbing alcohol.
This is the season to plant next spring’s display of bulbs and pansies. Referencing the photos I took last spring, I can determine where I need to plant Crocus, Muscari and/or Tulips. Choose some fun and different tulip cultivars to blend in with the tried-and-true bulbs you typically enjoy. Step out of the box and grow some lesser-known smaller spring bulbs such as Scilla, Puschkinia, Chinodoxa or dwarf daffodils. If deer are a challenge, plant Alliums, Narcissus (daffodils) and Hyacinths. Remember to choose early, mid and late blooming Hyacinth, Tulip and Narcissus (daffodil) cultivars to extend the bloom season of each. Look for the E, M, L notation on their package to guide you or for a notation in their description if ordering by catalog.
At Maymont, we plant trees and shrubs throughout the fall. Shrubs are planted once the temperatures cool but deciduous trees are planted only after they drop their leaves and go into dormancy. Keep in mind deciduous trees transplant best when dormant. To insure success follow the proper planting instructions for shrubs and trees defined by Virginia Tech. Always dig the hole only to the depth needed and twice as wide as needed. Use the same soil to back fill, adding water to insure there are no air pockets. Chunking the soil around the root ball with the shovel will ensure the space is tightly refilled. The final step is to apply mulch. Mounding the mulch up around the trunk is harmful to the tree, instead create a donut of mulch around the tree leaving the inner circle closest to the trunk covered with just 1” of mulch. Only stake newly planted trees that absolutely need one to stay upright. Water weekly the first year if it does not rain, even during the winter months.
In the border, remove the cold-burned annuals after the first killing frost, plus cut down low any perennial herbaceous plant that has been diseased or infested by insects this past growing season. If possible, keep healthy perennials in place until late winter for birds to harvest seed from and beneficial insects to overwinter in. Avoid fertilizing the garden and landscape beds this time of year but do apply a root invigorating fertilizer to the lawn. Rose growers can stop treating for black spot in October and enjoy the bolder rose blooms that open during the cooler weather. This is a terrific time to take soil samples in the lawn, border and landscape for testing so organic amendments can be added during the winter into early spring as defined by the test results
Keep an eye on the weather and harvest frost tender herbs and vegetables. At home, I use a dehydrator as a quick and easy food preservation process. Blanching and freezing is another quick method to preserve the harvest as well. Many of my friends enjoy making herbal oils and vinegars or canning their produce.
A big project for me this fall is to dismantle the overgrown containers that have been the home to Cannas, Asparagus and Brugmansia for quite a few years and transplant them into the border. The root systems fill the containers to capacity so I must carefully cut the individual plants out in chunks using an old hand saw and a hori hori garden knife. I will then remove the remaining soil, wash the containers out with a 1% bleach solution before storing for the winter. Come spring, I will refill the containers with fresh soil and buy new plants to grow and enjoy!
Finally, October is when I bring my house plants and Christmas cactus inside. I place my Christmas cactus in a window of a room I don’t frequent at night to continue promoting flower bud formation by controlling the day length. Native to Brazil, these plants will drop their flower buds when the temperature falls to 50 degrees or below.
October is a busy time in the garden, it is the month to celebrate the past season while preparing for winter and planting for the future. Thanks for watching and Happy Gardening!