8 Fall Gardening Rules You Should Know
If you’re unsure where to begin when it comes to your fall gardening projects, use these eight rules to make the most of your time.
Rule #1: Center on Color
Fall is known for its striking beauty, as leaves turn and put on a show-stopping display before the frigid temperatures take over. Be sure to take the time to enjoy the scenery as you plow through your end-of-the-season garden chores. If you’re interested in adding a new shrub or tree, then autumn is the perfect time to head to your local garden center, as nursery stock is typically discounted after Labor Day. Native plants, like sassafras, deliver fantastic fall color.
Other fall blooms that provide brilliant color are violas, pansies and sweet alyssum. Kale, ornamental cabbage, garden mums, nemesia, snapdragons and flowering stock are also solid performers. If you’re located in a colder region, purchase the largest plants available, as the falling temps and upcoming frosts do not promote quick growth.
Rule #2: Don’t Ignore Fallen Leaves
While it may be tempting to disregard the falling leaves, letting them accumulate on your lawn can hurt the grass. The quickest and most efficient tool to use on fallen leaves is a leaf vac. Not only does it remove them from the yard, but it also chops them up into smaller bits, which is ideal for composting or putting them to use as mulch on your planting beds.
A second option for cleaning up fallen leaves is to mow over them. For a thin layer of leaves, simply use a mulching blade and let the pulverized leaves stay on the lawn. For a thick leaf layer, either rake up the leaf pieces after mowing them, or attach the grass catcher bag to the mower so they are collected as you mow.
Rule #3: Start Composting
If you don’t have a compost pile, fall is the perfect time to start one. With leaves in abundance, you’ll have sufficient brown material, in addition to the annuals, perennials or tropical stems pulled from your planting beds. While it’s possible to purchase a composter, many container-based systems are best suited for small quantities of material. For big yards with large amounts of leaves, consider looking online for design ideas and building your own compost bin.
Once frost hits and kills off your tropical ornamental plants, throw them on your compost pile. Chop up any large-leafed plants like cannas and elephant ears so that they’ll break down faster. Layer these green plants with dry, brown material, like pulverized leaves.
Rule #4: Clean Up Edibles
Spend time clearing out all the dead plant materials in your veggie garden. Do not include any diseased foliage in your compost pile unless you turn it frequently and are certain it heats up. A compost pile that sits and gently decomposes is not hot enough to kill off disease organisms. Instead, bag up any diseased plants and put them out with your trash.
Once your veggie garden is cleaned up, it’s time to take care of any fallen fruit. This includes pears, apples, and even tomatoes. Gather them up and dispose of them, as fruit provides a safe place for pests and disease organisms to ride out the winter.
Rule #5: Seek Out Bargains
By early fall, most places that sell seasonal gardening items — garden centers, farm supply, big box, and department stores — begin marking them down. Look for deals on the things you’re sure to use, like hose reels, gloves, and watering wands. In addition, seeds dated for this year will continue to give good yields next year, and slow release fertilizer, bagged soil, and moisture granules can be safely stored until next season, so don’t hesitate to stock up on them while prices are low.
Rule #6: Prohibit Pests
While it’s true that fewer pests invade fall gardens, it’s best not to disregard them completely. By addressing invasive creatures like slugs in the autumn, you’ll cut down on the number of them laying eggs to hatch next spring. In addition, clearing out spent plant materials and any sprouting weeds in your vegetable garden beds can help wipe out slug food sources.
Rule #7: Safeguard from Frost
Protect your plants from frost by tucking them in using a supply of frost blanket material, a fabric made from polyethylene fibers that can safeguard plants in temps as low as 24 degrees F. If you’re located in the coldest regions, placing herbs and salad greens underneath a frost blanket can prolong the harvest into at least mid-November. In addition, frost covers sewn into drawstring bags are available to protect containers and hanging baskets. They slip right over the plants.
Rule #8: Look to Spring
We all enjoy the show spring flowers put on as the weather starts to warm. All of that comes from fall planting. Slip daffodils, tulips, crocus and giant alliums into flower beds in the fall for a gorgeous display next spring. The best time to plant is when evening temperatures stay in the 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit range. Use chopped leaves as a mulch to cover bare soil after planting, or place a length of chicken wire over the spot to ward off digging squirrels. Fall is also the ideal time to plant summer bulbs, like Asiatic or Oriental lilies.