Fall is indeed an important time for gardeners! While most people don't think of the words "autumn" and "gardening" belonging in the same sentence, seasoned gardeners know better.
The fall months are prime time to get your garden cleaned up and tucked into bed for the winter months. Weather in the fall months is usually just right for working outdoors. Even days with light rain are good gardening days.
So, let's take a look at what tasks are involved in the fall garden schedule.
Cleaning up the beds
It's time to get the last of those weeds out of the gardens. Those spent or frosted annuals and vegetables need to come out too. Then, rejuvenate your soil - cultivate and add a nice layer of mulch to avoid erosion. In your vegetable beds, grow a nice winter cover-crop to turn under in the early spring - this is known as ï¿½green manure,' and not only protects your soil, but enriches it as well.
Perennials Bulbs and Trees
Fall is the time to divide and plant perennials and bulbs, or plant trees. All of these plants will establish roots over the winter months, so feed them and mulch them appropriately.
Typically, divide perennials every three years or so and replant the divisions.
Mulch your bulbs with evergreen boughs to keep the soil temperature more even and keep the bulbs from being shoved up and out into the air during freezes.
Watch newly planted trees, especially during a particularly dry winter. They may need water once in awhile. Remember, they are establishing new root systems.
Certain plants are ready to prune. But not the roses! Pruning them only encourages new growth that will only get frozen off during winter. Hold off on fertilizing or pruning roses until later in the year. In the meantime, prune hydrangeas, grape vines, berry canes, or established trees, for example.
Making Leaf Mold
First of all, don't get rid of those piles of fallen leaves! Leaves provide a valuable source of nutrients for your soil. So, what is the best way to use them? Make leaf mold, of course!
Leaf mold is similar to compost. The difference is that the leaves are only partially decomposed. Making leaf mold is really a relatively easy, painless process. Mother nature does it all the time.
Just pile up the leaves and wait for them to decompose. OK, OK, if you want to speed it up, you can run the leaves through a branch chopper, or go over them with your lawn mower. If you are worried about your leaf mold pile looking unsightly or blowing away, keep it contained in a ring of chicken wire or other material that allows for plenty of air circulation.
Yes, plenty of air circulation is the key to good decomposition. When the leaf pile starts to shrink, you will know the leaves are decomposing nicely.
Uses for leaf mold:
As a soil conditioner, mix with poor soil to improve the overall quality.
The coarse organic texture of leaf mold
- Makes it easier for roots to grow by creating air spaces in the soil
- Improves the soil's ability to absorb and hold moisture
- Provides food for those desirable earthworms
- Creates active microbes, improving soil fertility
As an organic mulch, leaf mold
- Protects the soil beneath, keeping it from becoming compacted
- Improves moisture retention
- Decreases evaporation
- Cuts down on runoff
- Eventually breaks down, enriching the soil
Last of all, if you remove all weeds from the soil first, a good thick mulch of leaf mold will deter further weed starts. Keep it at no more than 3-4 inches deep.
As you can see, autumn is anything but the time to stop gardening. Enjoy these crisp fall days while you get your garden put to bed.
Once those tasks are taken care of, clean up and sharpen your tools, re-oil the handles, and put those away too. Go make a nice pot of soup, some garlic bread, and read a good book. Enjoy the sight of your tucked in garden, and look over those seed catalogs that will start showing up any time now. You deserve it after all that hard work!