Fall gardening

Okay, summer’s over. It’s time to kick off the flip-flops and put on your gardening gloves. There’s work to be done!

Fall, with its milder temperatures and more plentiful rainfall, is a golden season for gardeners. There are things that simply can’t be done at any other time of the year and others that are most successful when done in the fall. So let’s take a look at some of the things that make fall gardening magic.

Number one on the list is lawn seeding and renovation. There is no better time of the year for seeding a new lawn or improving an established one. Soil temperatures are still warm enough to ensure rapid germination and air temperatures have dropped enough that new seedlings are not stressed. Established lawns benefit from fall maintenance as well. Check your soil pH and add lime as needed. Older lawns will benefit from being aerated at this time of year to improve oxygen and water penetration and to reduce thatch build-up. And fall is the ideal time to fertilize cool season grasses such as tall fescue or bluegrass since they do much of their root growth in fall and winter. Fall fertilizer applications also reduce the risk of summer fungal diseases on cool season grasses. Warm season grasses such as zoysia and Bermuda grass are best fertilized in the spring since they will soon being going dormant.

This is also a great time to give perennial beds and borders a face lift. The first order of business is clean-up. Weed control is extremely important, especially if you have any of those pesky perennial weeds haunting you year after year. The really pernicious ones such as wire grass, knotweed and phragmites, that are difficult to control manually, are much more responsive to chemical control in the fall. A timely application or two of Roundup now can help ensure a clean slate for next year.

Once the weeds are under control, you can take a look around and assess your existing plantings. Sometimes even the best laid garden plan just doesn’t come off the way you expected and may require a little tweaking to achieve the desired results. Fall is a great time to transplant many perennials. Or maybe that patch of daylilies or coneflowers was simply too successful, and is crowding out its neighbors. It’s time to divide and conquer! You may even be able to share some with your gardening friends.

Once the weeds are under control and the garden thugs have been tamed, you may even find you have some room to add to your garden. Most trees, shrubs and perennials establish well in the fall and many are just coming to their peak at this time of the year. Fall blooming camellias, mums, ornamental cabbages or perennials such as asters or monkshood are all great additions to the late season garden.

And don’t forget to look ahead to next year. Fall planted bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths and tulips start the garden off to a glorious beginning. Or for an earlier jump-start for the season, try some crocus, snowdrops, or tiny little Iris reticulate, which can often be seen even before winter lets go its grip on the garden.

Of course, any discussion of fall plantings has to include winter pansies. No other annual gives you more bang for your buck! Planted in September or October, these beauties will bloom right through the winter and spring up until hot weather takes over in June. Imagine, up to nine months of color, and at a time when the garden is otherwise pretty bleak.

For those of you with water gardens, this is an important time of year as well. Start by removing any vegetation or debris that has fallen into the water. Cover the pond with netting to keep out the worst of the leaves as they fall. Applications of beneficial enzymes and bacteria can be made to help break up sludge and improve water quality. And once the cold temperatures arrive, it’s time to drop plants such as water lilies or lotuses to the deepest part of the pond to over-winter.

If you like to share your garden with your feathered friends, don’t forget to clean your feeders and bird baths and keep them stocked. You may even want to add a de-icer to your bird bath to ensure a reliable source of fresh water for them during the winter.

With summer about to become a memory, we gardeners should take advantage of the opportunities that fall presents. Why not see if you can make a little fall magic in your garden?

Ginger Hogan is a certified Delaware garden center manager at Lord’s Landscaping.