5 minute read

Garden: Fall into Gardening

Preparing for Autumn's Cooler Days

Story by Sue Burns

It may still be 105 degrees outside, but autumn really is on itsway, and now is the best time to plan for your garden’stransition. Tulare-Kings Counties Master Gardener PeytonEllas shares that she actually thinks of the garden year “…notfrom January-December, but from autumn to autumn, since somuch of our garden creation and recreation happens in thefall. The first half of September is preparation, and the secondhalf is when the action really begins.” So find a cozy spot,settle in with a glass of something cold, and let your thoughtswander to crisp days dotted with jewel-toned leaves driftingon cool breezes into pumpkin and sunflower-filled fields.Imagine the flowers and cool weather crops you’d like to plantand make your list of fall to-dos.

Fall Care for Perennials

Perennials—flowering plants that will live longer than two seasons—require some TLC as they enter their dormant period. Their leaves may turn brown and drop; leave this as cover and protection for the plant’s crown. A layer of mulch will provide additional defense. Keep watering the plants so their roots stay healthy.

Fall is the perfect time to divide clumps of perennials to keepthem flowering well. Gently dig up the root system, shake off asmuch soil as possible, and remove dead leaves and stems. Pullapart perennials with fibrous roots (such as chrysanthemums) byhand, or cut with a spade. Other perennials, like daylilies, growwoody with age; you may need a shovel or ax to separate them.

To care for your roses, let the flowers develop into rose hips (thefruits or seed pods of the plant that form from a bloom left onthe plant until the petals fall off). Hold off on fertilizing andheavy pruning now, as this encourages new growth, but do trimdead wood and overly long canes, and remove dead leaves anddebris under the plants. This will make January pruning easier.Check the plants for pests and diseases like mosaic virus, whichare most noticeable in fall and spring. If only a small area of theplant is affected, remove the mottled leaves.

Don't Rake Those Leaves!

Falling leaves, the quintessential symbol of the season, are actually beneficial to thegarden in several ways. Bees, bugs and butterflies overwinter in the leaves, whichprovide them a safe, dry environment until spring when they can return to preyingon pests that can threaten your garden. The leaves can also provide mulch for yourbeds, suppressing weeds and promoting worms beneficial to the soil as aerators(their castings also make a natural fertilizer). You can even leave a thin layer ofleaves on your lawn temporarily for protection and color. When they’ve dried, runyour mower without the collection bag over them a few times to shred into smallpieces that will sink into the grass and decompose.

Fall is the Best Time to Plant

Fall is a great time to plant drought tolerant California natives (think lilac,buckwheat and sage), which will add beauty and diversity to your garden andprovide a haven for bees, birds and pollinators. Another benefit: natives require lesswater and maintenance.

In the edible garden, cool weather crops—broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts,chard, lettuces, kale and herbs—will grow quickly in the milder temperatures andbring wonderful flavors and colors (not to mention nutrition) to your meals. Strollthrough local garden stores beginning in mid-to-late September and pick starters toplant. You’ll be harvesting veggies until spring!

Four More Important Steps

For fall garden prep and cleanup:

1. Trim and prune shrubs, evergreen trees, and non-perennials.

2. Fertilize cool season lawns, following the package instructions closely.

3. Apply pre-emergent herbicide for cool-season weeds, before rain can water their seeds.

4. Fortify garden soil now with amendments such as sand, compost and manure so itcan rest for a few weeks before planting. Add mulch to help retain moisture;compost and mulch can be top-dressed in all beds, too. Check soil moisture with amonitor or your finger to adjust watering as the weather changes. Heat waves maystill occur in the fall, so be ready to pre-irrigate as needed to keep plants healthy.

As you work, note how the sun moves across and lights your garden. No sense planting something in September that will not survive next summer’s scorching heat!

Get the Kids Involved

Let them help with clean-up and prep, then take them along to choose some of the fallseeds and starters. They’ll love seeing the wildlife in the flowers and plants and bemore invested in what’s on their plate and in their lunchbox. Speaking of lunchboxes,back-to-school is the time to plant sweet peas for spring, so remember to pick a spotwhere you can have a trellis for the plants to climb! For the how-to on creating SweetPea Teepees and other “funspiring” garden projects, check out Sunflower Houses andHollyhock Days by Sharon Lovejoy.

For more information on local gardening and the UCCE Master Gardeners Program, call (559) 684-3325 or visit: ucanr.edu/sites/UC_Master_Gardeners/