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It Almost Time to Welcome Fall Chores in the Garden

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By Bill Primavera

While I no longer garden, thanks to the fantastic outdoor crew where I live, I reminisce each fall about my many autumns on a large property, preparing for winter weather. 

For me, autumn in the garden was the most gratifying time of year as deciduous trees and perennials start to yawn, preparing for a long winter’s sleep, accompanied by that sweet smell that comes from plants releasing their chemistry and the crisp, clean sound of decaying leaves falling to the ground.

It forecasts the fleeting months of shorter days, much like when the children are asleep. The only outdoor chore that remains is clearing walkways of snow and ice.

While spring is probably everybody’s favorite time in the garden, helping its rebirth after being pummeled by winter, the fall signifies the finiteness of garden chores. When a weed is pulled, it stays pulled and doesn’t replace itself with double the aggression. When perennials are deadheaded, the gardener can take a furlough from assuring that they are properly fed and watered, but will welcome them back in spring after they both have rested. 

The proportions of any garden change as the perennial and annual growth are whacked back, which makes the vistas more open from one bed to the other. Also, it eliminates many of the planning mistakes from one season to the next, as errant plans are abandoned and bulbs and perennial roots are moved to other locations.

More creative joy comes from choosing which mums to feature as the color transitions from fall to winter. While you will see drifts of mum plants on some properties that have every color in the fall palate, I always liked to stick to one color, or at the most two. 

For the longest display of mum flowers, it’s best to buy those where most of the plant is still buds. When the mums fade, just leave them where they are; they maintain a nice mound throughout the winter, and you can cut them back in the early spring. If you’re lucky, they may return, but sometimes they don’t, depending on winter conditions.

My most gratifying fall job, as well as a good aerobic/resistance training exercise, has always been building up the mulch beds to make them look well-tended, as well as to keep the perennial roots from heaving. I always asked my tree service provider to send me a truckload of wood chips if they are very clean (no leaves) and processed into smaller chips. Truly, it’s as good as expensive mulch. In fact, I like it better because it offers more texture and somehow looks more natural to me.

Here are other garden tips at this time of year:

  • Harvest any vegetables left on plants. It’s important to pull out all of the crops because debris left over the winter can cause diseases to enter the soil and reappear the next spring.
  • This is the time when you can add horse manure or compost to the soil, because that allows plenty of time for them to break down.
  • For those who like to bring houseplants inside, they should all be gathered into a shady area for a few days to get them used to low light levels. Make certain that they are clean and free from little critters.
  • Perennials that are overcrowded or growing in a large ring with the center portion missing means that it’s time to subdivide. You’ll become popular with your neighbors if you share the excess. (As an adolescent gardener, I thrilled to the time when a generous neighbor would subdivide her iris and share the excess with me). Cut back the remaining perennials to three to six inches.
  • Prepare for brilliant displays of daffodils, tulips and crocuses in spring by planting bulbs now. Do not plant them in tidy rows but rather “broadcast” them in drifts on the surface and plant them where they land for a more natural look.
  • For those who have the patience to endure the rigors of rose maintenance, it is time to prune dead branches and cut off any old flowers. Rose bushes should be mounded using topsoil or mulch and the canes should be cut back to six to 12 inches. For even better protection, the bush can be covered with a bushel basket.
  • Also, this is the best time to transplant shrubs or young trees to new locations.

I don’t advise readers here about preparing lawns in the fall for next spring because I must confess that for years I didn’t aerate and thatch the soil, and I didn’t fertilize. Because my former single-home property was first cultivated in the early 18th century, I felt that I got a free pass to a very naturalized lawn accepting both crab grass and dandelions with grace. 

But then, I engaged a wonderful lawn care service that took care of all those great chores that I say I was too busy to do. I do hope that it wasn’t because I was too lazy.  

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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