Gardening: Fall Garden Thoughts

Fall Gardening Idea

Mixed containers, a few pumpkins and bright colors create a welcoming entrance to your home. Photo by Pam Eagles

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Hello, gardeners. How did October arrive already? It has been a busy gardening year in our area.  Recalling late winter when spring emerged a little early and met with cold temps, to spring when rain just wouldn’t stop, to summer when the rain finally stopped and heat and humidity hit, I have to say my garden has not been fun to work in lately. But we who love a garden know it is only ours for a season, and we anxiously anticipate the garden of the next season.

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I know I have mentioned or suggested a garden journal before. The journal is a great way to keep track of your garden. You might want to put a journal on your Christmas list. I find a spiral notebook with pockets works great. Write notes and keep plant tags and information in the pocket. Whatever you decide to use, I know you will benefit from the information you amass over the gardening years. I am hoping mine will become a family heirloom!

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So the trees are losing their leaves. Do you enjoy raking leaves? Do you deposit your leaf pile by the street for the city to pick up? Instead, consider this: Mulch your own leaves. They are an excellent mulch and soil amendment. It makes fall yard cleanup a faster job too. Run your lawn mower over the leaf-covered lawn, bag the leaves and incorporate them into your compost pile.   The natural breakdown will provide you with superior amended soil to freshen your planting beds next year. If you are a vegetable gardener, spread the leaves over your garden area and work into the soil; the leaves will break down and enhance your garden bed. When I say “work it in,” do not envision hard labor – just enough to incorporate into the soil and to keep the wind from blowing the ground leaves away. It is a job we will have to face anyway, so we might as well let it benefit our gardens.

Things to think about

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Fall is our best planting season for perennials, shrubs and trees. Scout your local garden centers for plants you have on your list to introduce to your garden. Planting now gives roots time to establish before the hot, dry weather of 2017 hits our gardens.

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It is also time to plant bulbs for spring blooms. Black has become a must for me in the garden.   If you like the unexpected dark plant here and there, you might want to consider adding a black iris to your collection. I have enjoyed black in iris, elephant ear, daylily, calla and coleus in my garden. Incorporating the dark with bright colors complementing makes a surprising statement.  I know, I went off topic, but this is something to consider over winter and perhaps act on in spring!

Our gardening tools must be put away. Do not forget to put them away clean. Remove caked-on dirt – the red-clay type we enjoy here especially. Once they are clean, rub them with a little oil to prevent rust, then put them in your shelter for winter. Don’t forget tools and even your tiller and lawnmower. A fall-cleaned tool will be garden ready to use on that first gardening day in the new year.

Mums and pansies abound this fall. I hope you incorporate some fall color – maybe in the ground or a container. Mixed containers are a lovely hello on the porch or coming up the steps to your home. Pop in a few pumpkins, and you are oozing fall curb appeal! When the mum fades, plant it in a sunny spot in the garden. I’ll tell how to care for it when it emerges next spring in a future column.

When you remove those mums, remember to keep the pansies fed for winter color. Perhaps you might add an ornamental grass and a heuchera to take you through winter. I like to cut from the garden to fill pots, too. Nandina, acuba and magnolia cuttings fill pots, protect rooted plants and add interest during winter. If it is a covered area, continue to water if you have rooted plants in the pots. Another tip is to add cuttings from your favorite hydrangeas; they will root. I leave them in the pots for a season to establish and then incorporate into my garden or send them home with friends.

Enjoy your fall gardening and happy digging!

— Pam Eagles, Wake County Extension Master Gardener • October 2016