Although you can’t tell it by our temperatures, fall is just around the corner. September is a little early to dive into the typical fall chores of pruning and tool maintenance, but it’s just the right time to do some “fallscaping.”
The veggie gardeners can be planting their “second season” gardens and getting ready to winter protect those plantings so they can enjoy their bounty through December if Mother Nature is kind to us. Typical fall season crops can be cabbages, lettuces, kales, and beets. They grow quickly in the warm soil with a little enriching compost and irrigation. Cool temps are their preferred climate so bring it.
Then just a small structure with clear plastic suspended over PVC or wire hoops and secured to the ground is all you will need to protect the crop from later season cold conditions
You could also purchase a commercial cold frame to extend your growing season. They are readily available.
If that’s not your cup of tea, how about taking a hard look at your garden to see where you need to do some make-overs? Now is a great time to shop the sales at local garden centers and on-line. They don’t want to winter over their plants. Just be sure the plant is a healthy one with good roots or in the case of an on-line purchase, you can get a refund. If it’s a little beat up, a good root system and some TLC should bring it back, if the price is right. Some plants, no matter how discounted, will never recover from being abused so be a careful shopper.
Aside from being healthy, what plants should be on your list? How about those that will add some pizzazz to your late season garden? Mums are everywhere but maybe you could add plants with berries that not only feed the birds but add color like this Beautyberry (Callicarpa Dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’) Take a look at this common dogwood (Cornus Florida) whose leaves turn a wine color while the edible berries become bright red to attract the birds. Or maybe you want some winter color which you can get when you add a shrub dogwood like this Cornus Sericea whose bright red bare stems stand out in the stark winter landscape. One of my favorite plants for fall color is a Kousa dogwood with a variegated leaf called ‘Gold Star’ (Cornus Kousa ‘Gold Star’). The yellow part of the leaf which is so attractive during the entire season turns pink and red as the temperatures drop. It’s a real traffic stopper.
While you’re looking over your garden to assess a makeover, consider what garden plans you might have for next year. Are there any plants that need to be moved somewhere else? September is a good time to do this to give the plants time to establish roots before they go completely dormant or winter comes and the ground freezes. Secondly, you can monitor them while they still have foliage which can tell you when they needs attention. A third reason for this timing is by now, usually the intense heat of summer has waned which takes a lot of stress off a transplant yet the soil is still warm enough to encourage root development. Lastly, in most geographies, rain becomes more regular and there is nothing as good as the steady, slow drip of rain for a plant to get established. Otherwise it will be up to you, the gardener, to provide irrigation to maintain the proper moisture level for your plant and that gets old fast as you get busy with back to school activities and all of life’s responsibilities.
Along those same lines, ditto for digging and dividing overgrown perennials, again to get those divisions in the ground and off to a good start before the season closes. Do they have a future in that makeover?
How about adding a path where none currently exists? Or a raised bed to give your back a break next year? Those kind of hardscaping and construction projects are a pleasure to do in the cooler temperatures of fall.
Now is also the time to take cuttings of your tender annuals and plants that won’t survive the winter. You can do this messy work of potting them up outside and get them going before you have to bring them in when outside temps get too cold for them.
For a more complete and enjoyable understanding of fallscaping, consult Fallscaping, Extending Your Garden Season into Autumn by award winning authors Nancy J. Ondra and Stephanie Cohen , with luscious photographs by Rob Cardillo. It will show you the way to do it all.
Written by Lorraine Ballato, garden writer and author of Success With Hydrangeas, A Gardener’s Guide.