Now that we’ve made it through another hot, dry summer, we’re finally enjoying cooler temperatures, colorful fall foliage, and fall mums. Though a sigh of relief is appropriate, remember, gardening is a year-round activity. Just because cooler temperatures have arrived there is still work to be done in the garden.
Cooler months give the gardener a chance to evaluate the previous year’s efforts. Ideally, every gardener should keep a garden notebook, recording names of any new plants acquired during the year, along with planting dates, and annotations as to what worked well and what didn’t. Remember, you can learn just as much from what went wrong, as long as you are prepared to learn from your mistakes. Garden failures are not as exhilarating as garden successes, but it is precisely those mistakes that produce a better garden.
Fall is the time to gather seeds from end-of-season flowers you wish to plant in spring. Gather dried seed pods and store them in labeled jars. If you want mass plantings of other flowers, it pays to purchase seeds, making sure the variety has proven successful in Zone 8.
Seeds can be sown during winter in a greenhouse, but most gardeners do not have this luxury. However, many seeds can be started using "winter sowing". One can improvise by planting seeds in plastic vegetable trays with clear lids or even clear plastic egg cartons which trap and retain warm sunshine and protect against cold night temperatures. These containers are filled with seed starter soil with top and bottom perforated for drainage. These makeshift “mini greenhouses” can be left outside, sheltered under garden shrubs or bushes. As long as the soil is warm and seeds kept moist they will germinate readily for spring transplanting to small “Dixie” cups, (prepped by putting in drainage holes and added soil). You do have to monitor your seed containers to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out completely. It’s great fun watching the seedlings sprout and take root. Once they’ve sprouted in early spring and produced their first set of true leaves, they can be transplanted in the garden.
Don’t overlook fall watering! Even when temperatures drop, plants still need water, most importantly the evergreens. They need water to keep needles green and reduce stress. Other plants go dormant, so their need for water is less. Use common sense and think about plant needs. Fall can sometimes be the driest part of the year. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, it’s an opportune time to water, especially prior to a freeze as this practice helps protects plants from freeze damage.
Protect your plants from the cold days that lie ahead. There are various types of mulch, everything from pine straw, ready mulch bark packaged in bags, or rubberized products. The best mulch is probably the most natural you can find. While mulch protects the plant’s root system, the branches and limbs of trees are exposed to snow and ice. Any broken or split limbs should be trimmed, not torn off the plant. Never shake a plant vigorously!
Lastly, know which plants are of a tropical nature and cannot be left outside. These plants need to be brought inside and kept in a cool, sunny environment out of drafts. Many plants love a moist humid environment. These plants will become your winter friends!
In conclusion, this season is a time to reflect upon the joy your garden has given you. Think how you can improve it; take care of what you have and anticipate the arrival of a new beginning in a few months’ time. You have plenty to do!
This article was submitted by Mary Elleson, Lincoln Parish Master Gardener.