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Garden Primer: 5 Tips for Tending to Your Autumn Garden
BY Charlie Dobbin | September 14th, 2023
I used to have a neighbour who loved the fall since it meant she could rip out all her annual flowers. For her, autumn was the end of the garden season, but oh how wrong she was!
Autumn is absolutely optimal for garden renovations, planting and transplanting, pruning and propagation. We tend to believe spring is best for all those activities, but in the fall the soil is warm, nights are cool, and rain usually arrives on schedule.
While our gardens are still top of mind, this is a wonderful time to fix any of the mistakes we’ve made this past season. We’ve all noticed the plants that failed to read its catalogue description and didn’t grow to the size or colour we expected. This is the perfect time for transplanting.
Take a really good look at your garden and see if there are areas that need more height, or a bench or bird bath. Make notes and follow these tips to ensure better results next year.
1. If your garden needs more colour now, consider planting Asters, Mums or Sedum to jazz up your garden for many years. Or perhaps your garden needs more colour in the early spring. If so, now is absolutely the best time to plant spring bulbs. Like showy tulips and daffodils, which are very available and easy to plant. I also like to incorporate some of the smaller bulbs that will ‘naturalize’ or keep coming back every year with more and more flowers. Bulbs like Scilla, grape hyacinth (muscari) and Crocus.
2. Often, nurseries will put perennial plants on sale in the autumn. Trees, shrubs, roses and vines can all be purchased for rock-bottom prices. And, as mentioned, now is the best time for planting.
3. Now is also the time to transplant any spring flowering perennials — like peonies, hellebores and Bleeding heart. Moving them now means you won’t sacrifice any flowers next spring. But avoid moving any spring flowering shrubs now if you can wait until after they flower next spring, and move them at that time.
4. Pruning away any dead or diseased branches on our trees and shrubs can happen at any time. An overgrown deciduous hedge can be rejuvenated in the fall by cutting it right down to 4-6 inches (10-15cm) tall. Believe it or not, it will grow back thick and lush next spring! Remember, don’t prune any of your early spring flowering trees and shrubs now. Examples include: lilacs, magnolia, rhododendrons and forsythia. Wait until they have finished flowering next spring, then prune as needed. Some people like to prune their fall flowering shrubs now, but I prefer to leave the flowers in place, then prune in spring. Hydrangeas and ornamental grasses enhance the winter garden, if you ask me.
5. No fertilizing at this time, unless you have a lawn. Fall fertilizer is required if you want your turf to come through the winter in good condition to get growing once soil warms in the spring.
Speaking of soil — I would be remiss if I didn’t provide tips on being good stewards of your soil. Most plants thrive in a fertile, well-drained soil. But how do we get that? You can’t go wrong by adding organic matter to any soil. This could be bags of composted manure, homemade compost or a truckload delivered onto the driveway. Organic products make clay soil better drained, and sandy soils hold water. Best of all, organic matter “feeds” the microorganisms in the soil, helping your soil to be alive and healthy. Assume you should add approximately one inch (2.5 cm) of good quality to all your garden beds every year. Spring or fall works, but autumn has the advantage of good working temperatures and the ground is not typically soggy like it can be in the spring.
Charlie Dobbin hosts “The Garden Show With Charlie Dobbin” on Zoomer Radio AM740 [a ZoomerMedia property] every Saturday at 9 a.m., ET.
A version of this story was published on Sept. 21, 2021