We're loving this cooler weather, but we're feeling a bit overwhelmed with the looming fall cleanup. Buy bulbs? Plant bulbs? Transplant most of the garden? (It really is all in the wrong place.) Pull out the summer annuals? Buy mums? Buy pansies and cabbages? Plant pansies and cabbages? Where? Get a new rake or stick with the old one? Start a compost pile? (Read your city ordinances in regard too compost bins.) When does the time fall back? (November 6.) It's fall y'all and sweatshirts and football are plenty enough without a chore list ten miles deep. Let's keep it simple. Here's the absolute "gotta dos" for those ready to throw in the trowel after a ridiculously dry and hot summer.
1. Gardener Review: How did you do? What worked, what didn't? Were some things fabulous but impractical? That banana plant was a show stopper and a traffic stopper. It hogged the path to the backyard, so the grass got beat up from trampling feet going off the path. What about those shade trees you planted years ago that are finally shading the house, and maybe the full sun perennial beds? Perhaps winter is the time for a shade garden plan? Gardens are not static. They're organic, evolving spaces, which is what keeps us gardeners intrigued. So make plans for next year.
Got blank spots? Now is the time to plant trees and shrubs.
Or maybe you'd like to garden for the birds.
Or have a pollinator garden?
Or a year round garden?
Or, is it finally time for that patio?
Whatever it is, get out the note paper and start dreaming. It'll make cleaning up this year's garden go much faster.
2. Buy bulbs, plant bulbs. You can wait to plant them until November as long as the soil is workable (Thanksgiving weekend is my traditional bulb planting weekend), but buy them now. They go fast. Store them in a cool, dry and somewhat dark place until ready for planting. If you want to force them, here's the pdf on that, and the chilling times required are listed below.
Chilling and Blooming Times For Bulbs
Note: Amayrillis and paperwhites do not require a chilling period, just pot them up and look for blooms 4+ weeks later.
- Daffodils: 12-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
- Tulips: 10-16 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
- Crocus: 8-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
- Grape hyacinth: 8-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
- Iris reticulata: 13-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
- Snowdrop (Galanthus): 15 weeks of chilling; 2 weeks to bloom after chilling.
- Hyacinth: 12-15 weeks of chilling; 2-3 weeks to bloom after chilling.
3. Weed, Weed, Weed. I know bulb buying and dreaming for next year beat this chore, but it's necessary. Many weeds are going to seed now and ousting them before that happens is crucial. At least try to remove the seed heads with a sharp pair of dead headers. (Ask Ian about my favorite ones that I give as hostess gifts.) Yes, you can call it quits, but that means next spring they'll be back with a vengeance. One year's seed is seven year's weed, as the saying goes. Here are some weed resources. A great online weed resource is Rutger's Weed Gallery.
4. Clean up sickly plants first. All the yellowing, browning, and sickly plant material gets first removal. This is perfect harboring ground for pests and disease, which is what fall cleanup is about. We're taking care of next year's pests and diseases by removing their favorite hangout places (and next year's weeds by not allowing them to seed).
5. Forget the pruning, except lightly. Fall is not the time to prune with the exception of a bit of light pruning. Pruning pushes out new growth which doesn't have time to harden off, and can lead to winter dieback. But do prune out the dead/diseased/dying/damaged wood (again perfect harboring places for pests and diseases), or anything that needs stabilizing (i.e. long branches that could get whipped around in the winter wind). For pruning information and when to prune, click here.
6. Gather the leaves. When the leaves start falling, don't give them to your municipality. Instead, gather them up and put them into the garden beds. You can rake them into a pile, and run the lawn mower over them a few times--the inexpensive way. There is also such a thing as a leaf shredder, which is very efficient and useful (think of a big paper shredder). Then mulch the garden beds with the shredded leaves. Leaves contain 2x the mineral content of manure, are organic roughage--adding them to the soil improves drainage and aeration--and they serve as food for beneficial microbes. There's also the compost bin if you have one. They make great food for compost. All that, and we're filling up landfills with them. Leaving them on the grass all winter not only kills the grass, it leaches all the good stuff out of leaves. So yes, it is a chore for now.
7. Save some for the birds and wildlife. A tidy garden is good, and weeding important, but leave some of those coneflowers for the birds and the warm season grasses for wildlife habitat.
8. Bring the tropicals indoors. Terri Joiner, our tropicals buyer, explains that tropicals won't show immediate damage unless exposed to frost or freeze. However, extended exposure to temperatures in the 40's can lower their resistance to pest and disease. Have them acclimated to indoors by the time we're experiencing consistent nighttime temperatures in the upper 40's. And since we are moving indoors soon, don't forget, many of our indoor plants help purify household toxins. (We've just gotten some great plants in, so shop now.)
9. The vegetable garden. Remove all spent and diseased plant material from the garden. Tomatoes that suffered tomato blight should be pulled up, bagged up and thrown away. Consider planting a cover crop for winter. Use the leaves in the vegetable beds, too. Improving the soil is always the goal for any gardener. Harvest all your herbs and late summer crops before a freeze gets them and remember that now is a good time to plant garlic.
10. Clean out birdhouses and wash bird feeders. I have a bird feeder that can go in the dishwasher, so I toss it on the top rack, incentive for sure. If you don't have that, just use warm water, scrub and rinse well. Clean bird feeders help reduce the possibility of spreading disease and sickness among birds.
There's always more to do in the garden, but this seems a gracious plenty for now. For those confused about pruning clematis (and really, who isn't?), look for next weeks' blog to discuss that, and what bulbs are actually pollinating bulbs.
Cinthia Milner is the garden coach, blog writer and outside sales staff at BB Barns Garden Center.
BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.