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6 Things to Do This Fall for a Better Garden Next Year

By Heather Blackmore for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

Autumn’s arrival signifies the beginning of a much-needed respite from the garden. Deadheading, planting, watering, weed pulling, and pest management can take a toll. You may even feel a sense of relief when you think about wrapping things up for the year. As is typical of most gardeners, we’re always looking ahead, and fall is a great time to do some forward thinking. So don’t put away those shovels and trowels just yet! There’s work to be done if we’re going to get off on the right foot next spring.

Here are six important tasks you can do until the snow flies or the ground freezes for an even better garden next year.

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Keep a Journal

A lot happens in the garden over an entire season, making it hard to recollect later in the year. A journal or notebook is a great tool for keeping your thoughts and observations organized. What did you like/dislike? What grew well? What needs to be edited, divided, transplanted? These are all great things to note in a journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy—a simple notebook will do the trick.

Keeping a written record of your life in the garden can be as detailed as you like. It’s your journal, after all. Jotting it down will give you a starting point next spring and something fun to refer to when spring seems so far away.

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Here I am photographing Invincibelle Sublime™ – a unique new smooth hydrangea with tourmaline-green blooms.

Take Pictures

Cameras and gardeners go hand-in-hand. Not only are they great for creating permanent memories of your garden, but they’re also an excellent tool for designing spaces at no cost. Pixels are free!

Perhaps you have a garden space in need of something, but you just can’t put your finger on it. Take a picture and study it through the winter months. You’ll be surprised how a photo can help you focus on a space and reimagine it. Enlarge the photo and draw in plants, trees and shrubs. Photos are also great for identifying spaces in the garden that you never thought needed sprucing up until you snapped the photo.

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Not only do coneflowers provide winter interest, but their seed heads like those of Color Coded® ‘Orange You Awesome’ are a vital food source for birds in the winter.

Fall Cleanup

Don’t be too tidy! Many plants like coneflowers and black-eyed Susans bloom right up to the first frost, leaving behind interesting seed heads whose shapes add visual interest to the winter garden. If you do your cleanup in the fall, resist the urge to cut back these kinds of plants. It’s a great way to support winter wildlife, too. Food sources are less plentiful in the winter months and seeds are a nutritious source of fat for birds.

The hollow stems on these perennials have plenty of nooks and crannies that provide winter refuge for native bees who hunker down until spring. Don’t get too crazy with the rake. There’s an entire ecosystem of beneficial insects that ride out the winter beneath the protective carpet of leaves.

For plants with a history of pest and disease issues, do a thorough clean up around them by cutting them back and removing all traces of plant material. Foliar pathogens and pests can sometimes overwinter in decaying leaves, awakening in the spring to continue the cycle. For example, hostas are notorious for harboring slug eggs within their dead leaves. A thorough cleanup will limit the presence of any troublemakers waiting to wreak havoc next spring.

Stay on Top of Weeds

Just when you thought you could stop, we’re here to say keep pulling! Weeds are an inevitable part of gardening, but with consistent effort, they can be kept to a minimum. Hand pulling is best done when the soil is damp and before the weeds go to seed.

Perennial weeds like Canada thistle or field bindweed are entirely different beasts. Oftentimes, no matter how much you pull, they’re determined to reproduce with deep taproots or rhizomatous root systems. They may even spread vegetatively, generating a new plant from a tiny piece of leaf or root.

With persistent pulling, however, you may be able to deplete perennial roots of their carbohydrate stores and weaken them over time. To win the war on perennial weeds, walk your garden daily and pull emerging weeds until the ground freezes. Most importantly, be consistent. Weeds take over quickly!

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Keep Watering

As the autumn chill sets in, what’s happening above ground looks quite different from what’s happening under foot. Don’t be fooled by falling leaves and perennial die-back. Roots are still growing and in need of water. In fact, roots continue to grow until the ground freezes which means they need consistent water to sustain them.

Fall watering is especially important for the trees, shrubs and perennials that you planted this year. Pay extra attention to the evergreens. Because they hold their leaves year-round, continuing to give them a good soak until the ground freezes will help prevent leaf browning and stress brought on by drying winter air. Supplemental water may not be necessary for areas receiving an inch or more of rain per week. For those who aren’t so lucky, be prepared to water deeply every 10-14 days until the ground freezes.

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Daylilies like Rainbow Rhythm® ‘Going Bananas’ benefit from division every three to five years.

Divide and Plant

Warm soil and cooler temperatures make fall a prime time for planting. Plants can easily grow strong, healthy root systems when they aren’t challenged by summer heat and drought. Just be sure to get your planting done at least six weeks before the ground freezes.

Garden centers often refresh their inventories in the fall and sweeten the deal with end-of-season sales. But if your budget is tight, make more of your existing plants. Divide perennials like hostas, daylilies and bee balm to add to more parts of your garden.

Learn more about fall gardening:

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Patent Information: Invincibelle Sublime™ Hydrangea arborescens USPP34418 CanPBRAF; Color Coded® ‘Orange You Awesome’ Echinacea USPP32105 CanPBRAF; Rainbow Rhythm® ‘Going Bananas’ Hemerocallis USPP17164 Can3454

Heather Blackmore is a Chicago-area gardener, writer and speaker who hopes her passion will inspire others to find their way to a happier, healthier life in the garden.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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