Plant in the Fall for a Better Spring Garden
Winter is undeniably a long proposition and often dreary. All the more reason to wring every day of color, beauty and flavor from your garden before that first snow, while creating the foundation for an even better garden next year. Here is a guide to how to take care of your landscaping now to ensure a fabulous spring.
Planting trees and shrubs
Don’t overlook the opportunity to gain a year of establishment with fall planting. I receive many questions about what is safe to plant in the fall, so there seems to be a lack of awareness that cooler temperatures and ample moisture make fall an outstanding time to plant.
The key consideration is that as long as soil temperatures are above 40 degrees, plants will be making root growth and establishing themselves even if they are dormant. Not only can you enjoy their form in your landscape for an additional six months, but fall planted trees and shrubs will produce fuller leaves and better growth than if they were planted in spring the next year.
Tip: Mulch with two to three inches of organic mulch. Specific depth should be determined by your soil type: sandy soils need more, heavy clay need less. If nature isn’t doing it, provide water to new plants on a regular basis so they are well hydrated before the ground freezes.
Containers and flower beds looking bedraggled after a long summer? There are all types of fresh annuals available that will scoff at frost and give you color to enjoy throughout fall. Just be open to the fact that color can be flowers like pansies, snapdragons, dianthus and callibrachoa, or foliage and texture like the ornamental grasses, flowering cabbage and kale.
Tip: Good to know that ornamental cabbage and kale will remain strong and crisp looking until temps are consistently in the upper 20s.
In the upper Midwest, we generally want to transplant perennials as early as possible in the fall. Perennials have shallow root systems compared to trees and shrubs, so we like to maximize their opportunity to root and get anchored before the ground freezes. Fall is the time to move and divide peonies, bearded iris and Oriental poppies.
Tip: Like trees and shrubs, mulch perennials. Do this to keep them from heaving out of the ground in case we have a winter with alternating warm/cold/warm/cold cycles. An exposed root system often equals a dead plant.
In addition to harvesting favorites like tomatoes and peppers, you will hopefully have planted broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard and more of the cool season veggies in late summer for a fall harvest. Remember radishes can reward from seed in as little as 28 days.
Tip: Love to cook with garlic? Cloves are planted in the cool temperatures of fall, about the time you plant spring-flowering bulbs, then harvested next summer.
Spring flowering bulbs
A beautiful spring garden starts with planting tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and the minor bulbs like crocus, snowdrops, etc. Minor, only because they’re smaller. Buy early to get the colors you want. Store in a cool, dry place and plant when soil temperatures drop to the upper 50s. I like a friend’s comment that it isn’t spring if you haven’t planted a 100 Dutch bulbs in the fall.
Tip: Four-legged Midwest mammals hate daffodils. Want to plant once, not apply repellents and have plantings that just get bigger and better each year with minimal labor? Put daffodils at the top of your shopping list.
Great lawns of bluegrass and fescue are made in the fall. Two fall applications of fertilizer six or more weeks apart (for example, late summer, then Halloween or later) are the most important ones of the year. Your grass is making food, storing it and building a heavy root system. Fertilizer provides building blocks for those activities.
Tip: Research shows that fall provides a great and largely overlooked opportunity to control weeds. Like grass, weeds are storing food, too, and absorbing things like control products. They send herbicides down into roots, achieving great control. You can reduce or eliminate a lot of pesky weeds right now and start with a cleaner lawn next spring.