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Priorities for Fall Gardening

Experts continue to profess that fall is an ideal time for gardening. Despite all the efforts of marketing experts, the media and gardening gurus, many gardeners do not follow suit.

This is an unfortunate tendency because there is little difference between allowable garden activities in the fall compared to the spring. The only difference in the seasons is that the cut-off point for spring activities is the heat, whereas the cut off point for fall activities is the cold. You will be well rewarded if you take the time to dress up warmly with decent gloves and work boots and venture out into the garden while there is still time.

The priorities for garden activities in the fall should revolve around putting the garden to bed. If good weather persists, however, feel free to keep on planting and building to save yourself time in the spring. Roots are still actively growing in order to store nutrients and water for winter survival and spring growth. The soil is warm and moist, making it an ideal time to work with outdoor plants.

It is a good idea to spend a bit of time with each of your plants prior to winter freeze-up. Remove any weeds which may have germinated late in the season and invaded the soil near or even over top of a perennial. I find that weeds will often invade the early flowering perennials which die back in the summer. If left unchecked, robust growers such as dandelions or burdock will kill the perennial underneath.

Surround each perennial or shrub with a generous supply of compost. This will add organic matter to the soil and assist in promoting a healthy environment for beneficial soil micro-organisms. Bonemeal or a high phosphorous fertilizer can also be added with the compost.

Whether and how much to cut down the dead flowers and stems of perennials is mostly a matter of taste. Many dead flower stalks are attractive when left and allowed to show through the snow. Ornamental grasses, hydrangea, rudbeckia and mullein are a few examples of plants which should be left uncut due to their ornamental appeal in winter. I would not recommend cutting any perennial down to the ground level. Leaving a few inches of stubble will help to attract snow cover which will protect and insulate the roots. The stubble, combined with the compost, will also give you an indication where the plants are after the snow melts.

Trees, shrubs and perennials can all be planted in the fall. Nurseries will often sell these plants at a discount in order to avoid the expensive overwintering procedure. Those that are left unsold will often be transplanted into larger containers to be sold for a higher dollar the following spring.

Transplanting and dividing plants within your existing garden is ideally done in the fall. The soil is generally easy to work with and the active root growth of the plants will quickly repair any root injury which occurred during the digging process. The equipment you need when dividing and transplanting includes a sharp spade or shovel, tags to mark the plants and a wheelbarrow full of compost. Place a compost and soil mixture in the space left after you remove or divide a plant. Use the compost to amend or improve the soil in the new area where you are planting. Place a tag where you have moved a plant since you may not remember that you put it there in the spring.

Bulbs can be planted as you divide and transplant perennials. Consider the flowering time and colour of the perennial and plant a bulb which would be a good companion to that. Evening primrose, a rapid spreader in need of constant dividing, can be under-planted with crocus or daffodils to give an early flower show. The primrose leaves will then disguise the foliage of the bulbs after they have ceased flowering. Ornamental onions are perfect companions to peony or artemisia.

It is very important to mow the grass short for the final cut of the year. Long grass will promote a disease call snow mould, as well as provide a likely habitat for mice, voles or moles. The damaged caused by these rodents will appear as unsightly tunnels throughout the lawn in the spring. Short grass combined with a late season application of fertilizer, such as 12-8-16 or 24-4-8 with IBDU, will do an excellent job of guaranteeing you a healthy lawn next spring.

Daisy Moore, 1999.



Other autumn garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Fall Perennials
Planning New Beds for Fall Planting
The Garden in Transition
Dividing and Transplanting Perennials
The Dos and Don'ts of Staking Trees
Re-Seeding or Sodding the Lawn
Bulbs: Always Worth the Effort
Fertilizing the Lawn in Late Summer or Early Fall
Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Next Year
Growing Garlic ...For Food or Ornament
Priorities for Fall Gardening
Preparing the Garden for Winter





Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy


Daisy Moore 2006