Best Fall Gardening Practices


The days are growing shorter; the air is getting crisper. You pull your collar up around your neck to ward off the chill as you sip your pumpkin spice latte and watch Ravens football. Fall has officially arrived.

As much as you feel like hibernating inside to watch the leaves change color from the warmth of your living room, there is much to be done in your garden before putting it to bed for the winter. Many garden tasks are time sensitive and weather dependent, but by following a few simple rules you will ensure great plant health and beautiful blooms in the spring, summer and years to come.

Ladew Topiary Gardens

The first rule of thumb is to avoid pruning any deciduous woody plant material. This is important for a
few reasons:

  • For spring flowering trees and shrubs, you will cut off next year’s flower buds if you prune it this late in the year.
  • Until a tree or shrub goes dormant, any pruning you do will promote new growth, and new growth is tender and more sensitive to cold. This could lead to dieback.If you want to prune a tree or shrub and you are not concerned about spring flowers then wait until it is dormant to do so. You will know it is dormant when all the leaves have fallen off.
  • There are a few exceptions to this rule. First, dead wood can be removed anytime. It is also OK to lower a tall shrub that is at risk of blowing and breaking in winter winds, but do not lower it all the way to the desired height in case there is some cold-related dieback. Third, this rule does not apply to evergreens.These can be pruned in the fall as long as temperatures are mild.

It is also important to manage proper garden hygiene. Here are some fall garden tasks that aim to promote overall plant health:

  • As the leaves fall off rose bushes, remove them and throw them in the trash. Roses have many diseases by the end of the season, and you do not want any fungal spores or insect eggs overwintering in your flower bed to re-emerge and infest your plants again next year. This also applies to any tree or shrub in your garden that was diseased this season.
  • After the first hard frosts, most annual and perennials will die back. As this occurs, remove dead annuals and cut back spent foliage on perennials.
  • Once the beds are cleaned up, applying a thick layer of mulch will help insulate the soil and buffer plant roots from extreme swings of temperature that occur throughout fall and winter. Mulch will also help suppress winter weeds. Be careful to keep mulch away from tree and shrub trunks, as mulch cover allows them to feed on bark, which could girdle and kill your plant.

Fall is also a great time to divide your herbaceous perennials. This can rejuvenate overgrown plants and enhance your garden design. Do this by digging up any healthy perennials that have gotten too large for their space. Avoid doing this on a hot sunny day and be sure to keep the roots cool and moist while you prepare the bed for replanting, and keep them watered as you would any new planting.

Speaking of planting, now is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs. Try to get them in the ground six to eight weeks before the first hard frost.

It is not just your flower beds that need attention, your lawn requires special care during this cool season as well. Improving the health of your turf is the best way to prevent future weeds and diseases. Here are some tricks to maintaining healthy turf grass:

  • Remove heavy leaf litter from areas of lawn. A thick layer of leaves will shade out the grass during a season when the grass tends to grow a lot. If you prefer to keep the leaves as a natural fertilizer try to shred them with a mower so they break down faster.
  • A few weeds are OK (and can actually be beneficial) but if perennial weeds in your lawn are getting out of control, treat them with a chemical or organic broadleaf weed killer.
  • Core aeration is great because it helps treat compaction and allows nutrients to reach the grass roots where they are needed. Follow up aeration with grass seed and finally fertilizer if soil tests show you need additional nutrients.

So, get out there and enjoy the beautiful fall weather while at the same time setting your garden up for success next year. By the time the snow begins to fall you will be able to sit by the fireplace and know your lawn, flowers, shrubs and trees are nestled snug in their beds for the long winter ahead.

Adrienne Gettman is the director of horticulture and facilities at Ladew Topiary Gardens.

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