Orange Aronia, yellow spicebush and coralberry, and dark red flowering dogwood show their colors in my front yard.
It’s been so warm that autumn is much delayed this year. Ash trees, which usually turn golden and drop their leaves in late September, are only showing full color now. As I look out my window, I see deep yellow ash leaves dropping one at a time, as if deliberately, in the light misty rain.
Delayed or not, autumn is finally here, which means it’s time to prepare for winter–and for spring. Here are some things you could do:
— water new plantings: in any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all plants installed this spring or last fall. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall or this spring need supplemental watering during dry spells. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? I use a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well. When the rains ends on Saturday, I’ll check my rain guauge and decide whether to water my new trees on Sunday. And because the ground is so very dry, water well before doing any fall planting.
— continue to practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers. This is particularly important as the season winds down. Monitor for insect eggs and larvae and remove them before infestations become serious. Throw out badly infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material). Pick fall crops of cool-weather plants like lettuce, spinach, and peas. First frost could happen at any time, although our current forecast doesn’t seem to indicate it.
— as tomatoes ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits: provide no more than an inch of water per week. (If it rains, don’t water.) Keep removing suckers. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.
— fall is the best time to extend a garden bed or start a new one (it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn): spread a 3-4” layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. You’ll be able to plant right through the mulch and thatch next spring. You can scatter seeds in the mulch as you collect them.
— collect seeds. Seed of purple lovegrass and of little bluestem is ripe, as are seeds of joe pye weed, penstemon, prairie onion, and monarda. Rudbeckia seeds are ripe when the birds start to eat them. Right now it’s hard to keep up with the seed collecting. And plenty of seed will remain for the birds to eat this winter.
— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: if you feel you must fertilize your lawn, best practice is to give it no more than two applications of slow-release organic fertilizer each season, around Memorial Day and Labor Day. As the weather cools down, it’s time to reseed bare areas. Be sure to keep those patches well watered until the grass is up. But if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Other lawn care tips: let the grass grow at least 3″ tall for maximum photosynthesis. Established lawns do not need water now (or ever), but if you do water, do it infrequently and deeply to encourage deep root growth. One inch of water once a week is much better than a few minutes each day. But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow!
— plan for next season: Do it now, while the garden is still growing. Notice things that did great and things that didn’t, make lists of areas you want to improve, areas of lawn you could get rid of, places that are getting sunnier or shadier and need new plantings to suit. Do you have enough fall color in your garden? If not, plant some colorful native shrubs in the spring.
— Leave the Leaves this year: use your leaves as lawn fertilizer, as mulch, and as the basis for a compost pile. Read more here.
Enjoy the garden this week and always!
Little bluestem is gorgeous when its seedheads glow in the autumn sunshine.