Adventures in fall gardening: October to-do list
As Canadians prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, old and new traditions converge.
For some families, fall means apple picking and trips to harvest festivals. For others it’s the time for crisp woodland walks on sunny golden afternoons. Boats are pulled out of the water, pools are closed. Unlike some memorable years past there are no snowstorms in this year’s Thanksgiving forecast thankfully. But all around us nature sheds its summer garments and prepares for the long winter season ahead. Fall is also a time for traditions old and new for gardeners. Beyond the garden cleanup, lawn care and leaf raking, October and even November are great months for taking stock and looking forward to the next three seasons.
‘Fall makeover,’ aka, plan ahead for next summer
Weather conditions at this time of year are generally much more forgiving to new plants than the hot summer months. Have a good look around your garden and give it a ‘fall makeover.’ Consider which perennials are stunted or had less blooms or yellow foliage – they likely need a sunnier exposure. Plants that were stunted and also a bit crispy would benefit from less sun. Areas that are crowded, spots where plants spill onto lawns, dull areas where there’s little colour or variety – these all need attention. Many perennials are very forgiving so don’t be afraid to try them in new locations or divide them to create more. For more tips on how to divide and transplant read my earlier column on ‘free’ plants.
* TIP *
Run out of room? Create a new flower bed. Need a bigger canvas? Expand an existing one. That’s what I’ve done in my front yard - making this curbside bed bigger creates the impression of more depth in the front garden, and makes the whole look more attractive when viewed from the street. Remember the importance of starting with good soil – find out more in this column. Here I removed the old soil to a depth of 6”+/15cm+ and replaced it with 8”+/20cm+ of pure compost - nutrient-rich organic matter that will give plants the best possible growing conditions. I’ll fill the bed next spring but for now it’s a perfect place to add newly divided “free” plants, as seen here, as well as clumps of spring bulbs. A new flower bed is also ideal for laying down wires and setting up a new lighting design. Low voltage spotlights create beautiful highlights throughout the garden, which means you can enjoy looking at your space even after the sun’s gone down.
Create a frame for ‘winter interest’
Before you cut down your plants try and imagine what they’d look like covered in snow. Annuals won’t survive successive frosts, perennials like Hostas go to mush and slender stalked plants won’t stand up to winter wind and snow. But there are many perennials on sturdy stalks which will last – Sedum, Echinacea and so on – and will provide fantastic ‘winter interest.’ The seed heads of Echinacea provide food for birds and also look striking with dollops of fresh snow on their black cones. Taller varieties of Sedum have clusters of small flowers which provide larger landing pads for snowfall.
Any perennials you’re not leaving for winter interest can be cut back to 2-3”/7-8cm in height. Tidy up perennials like Lavender, Buddleia and Perovskia, removing broken or damaged stems - woody perennials like these should be left until spring to prune.
Hiding secret caches of colour for spring
I’m a big fan of Daffodils (Narcissus) for three reasons: I love yellow in the garden; Daffodils remind me of England and my heritage; they’re pest resistant so squirrels don’t touch them. So what bulbs grow in my spring garden? You guessed it – Daffodils! I try to add a few new clumps every year, scattering both early and mid-spring blooming varieties in the front and back garden so there’s always a cache of colour popping out. This year I added Snowdrops (Galanthus) – it’s one of my Mom’s favourites and it’s one of those varieties that sometimes emerges while there’s still snow on the ground. Talk about giving hope to the winter-weary. Trust me, you’ll be ecstatic to see them come March/April.
The Daffodil family is huge so why not branch out a little each year? I’ve added several clumps of ‘Thalia’, a fragrant all-white variety, as well as ‘Fragrant Rose’ which is white with an orange centre. When planting bulbs be sure to put them in the earth at the suggested depth with the pointed end up, and plant in clumps to create a cluster of flowers. Putting bone meal in your planting holes or laying chicken wire over the top of the earth are some of the more popular remedies for keeping squirrels away from your Tulips and Hyacinths. However, squirrels don’t eat Daffodils so you can invest in as many of these beauties as you like and be confident that they’ll still be there come spring.
Just one more thing…
We all know why fall’s a great time to work in the garden - cooler temperatures for landscaping labour and a more forgiving time for reestablishing battered lawns. Undaunted, my boyfriend and I decided we’d tackle both of the above this fall. We’ve been at it for four solid weekends now – digging up the old lawn and chopping up the crabgrass by hand, fixing the grading in two flower beds that border the house, expanding other flower beds, relaying flagstone paths, wheelbarrowing 6 cubic yards of dirt into position - plus deck repairs, brick repairs, garage painting and more… it’s been busy. An adventure? Absolutely! You know how one thing always leads to another - and everything always, always takes longer than you think. However, the home stretch is in sight, the finishing touch of laying new sod happens this weekend. We’ve survived - and we are going to enjoy this ‘garden renovation’ in all seasons to come.
October ‘to do list’
- Harvest or protect tender perennial, herbs or vegetables from frost. Protect roses, rhododendrons and young or tender shrubs.
- Pull up annuals and add them to your compost bin or waste collection.
- Snip seed heads off plants, let them dry out and collect the seeds for next year.
- Plant spring bulbs.
- Tidy up flower bed borders, weed and add mulch.
- Reshape and tidy up prune early season bloomers like Lilac and Weigela. Wait until spring to prune woody perennials like Lavender, Buddleia and Perovskia. Many ferns, Phlox and Chrysanthemums are also best left until spring.
- Leave plants like ornamental grasses, Sedum, Coreopsis, Heuchera and Echinacea intact for ‘winter interest.’ Interesting plant shapes and seed heads look stunning with a coating of fresh snow.
- Be brave, tackle or at least make a start on garden fixes and new landscape designs to give you a head start for next year.
- Give some attention to your lawn with a final application of fall fertilizer late in the season. Aerate and overseed as necessary – talk to your local garden nursery if you are unsure whether it’s still advisable in your area. Keep seeded areas moist, watch the forecast and time your seeding for a showery period to cut down your watering.
A big end-of-season thank you to my readers, it’s been great fun connecting with you this season for “Suzanne’s Adventures in Gardening!” Thanks also for sharing your gardening stories and pictures from all across Canada - wonderful stuff. You can still add your comments below, upload your photos to our website or tweet a photo of your garden to me at @SuzanneTWN. Don’t forget to join me on TV weekday afternoons and early evenings for the latest weather news and forecast.
I wish you all a great fall and winter season - enjoy some rest but don’t forget to venture out to play and enjoy your landscape as new beauty emerges in the months ahead. As I like to say, the outdoors is always beckoning - what are you waiting for? Happy gardening adventures!
The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.
- Terri Guillemets