Fall Chores in the Garden, Yawning, Ready for Sleep


By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

Autumn in the garden and yard can be the most gratifying time of year as deciduous trees and perennials start to yawn, preparing for a long winter’s sleep, accompanied by that sweet smell that comes from plants releasing their chemistry and the crisp, clean sound of decaying leaves falling to the ground

It all tells me that I can rest for a few short months of shorter days, much like when the children are asleep. The only outdoor chore that remains is clearing walkways of snow and ice.

While spring is probably everybody’s’ favorite time in the garden, helping its rebirth after being pummeled by winter, I like fall for the very finiteness of garden chores.  When I pull a weed, it stays pulled and doesn’t replace itself with double the aggression. When I deadhead perennials, I know that I can take a furlough from assuring that they are properly fed and watered, but will welcome them back in spring after we have both rested. 

The very proportions of my garden change as I whack back the perennial and annual growth, which makes the vistas more open from one bed to the other.  Also, it eliminates many of my planning mistakes from one season to the next, as I abandon errant plans and move bulbs and perennial roots to other locations.

My more creative joy comes from choosing which mums I’ll feature as the color transition from fall to winter.  While you will see drifts of mum plants on some properties that have every color in the fall palate, I like to stick to one color or at the most, two.  We all know that it’s best to plant in uneven numbers, so when I got a real deal this year with four nice sized mums for $20, I bought a total of 12 and planted them in four sets of three.

For the longest display of mum flowers, it’s best to buy those where most of the plant is still buds. When the mums fade, just leave them where they are; they maintain a nice mound throughout the winter, and you can cut them back in the early spring. If you’re lucky, they may return, but sometimes they don’t, depending on winter conditions.

My most gratifying fall job, as well as a good aerobic/resistance training exercise, is building up the mulch beds to make them look well-tended, as well as to keep the perennial roots from heaving.  I ask my tree service to send me a truck load of wood chips if they are very clean (no leaves) and processed into smaller chips. Truly, it’s as good as expensive mulch. In fact, I like it better because it offers more texture and somehow looks more natural to me.

    Here are other garden tips at this time of year:

  • Harvest any vegetables left on plants. I have made a decision not to grow vegetables at this juncture in my life, but I used to love growing tomatoes. If there are still some on the plant, but they’re still green, they can be placed in brown paper bags and stored in a cool dry place. They will ripen slowly.  It’s important to pull out all of the crops because debris left over the winter can cause diseases to enter the soil and re-appear the next spring.
  • This is the time when you can add horse manure or compost to the soil, because that allows plenty of time for them to break down.
  • For those who like to bring houseplants inside, they should all be gathered into a shady area for a few days to get them used to low light level conditions. Make certain that they are clean and free from little critters.
  • Perennials that are overcrowded or growing in a large ring with the center portion missing means that it’s time to subdivide.  You’ll become popular with your neighbors if you share the excess. Cut back the remaining perennials to a height of three to six inches.
  • Prepare for brilliant displays of daffodils, tulips and crocus in spring by planting bulbs now. Do not plant them in tidy rows but rather “broadcast” them in drifts on the surface, and plant them where they land for a more natural look.
  • For those who have the patience to endure the rigors of rose maintenance, it is time to prune dead branches and cut off any old flowers.  Rose bushes should be mounded using topsoil or mulch and the canes should be cut back to six to twelve inches.  For even better protection, the bush can be covered with a bushel basket.
  • Also, this is the best time to transplant shrubs or young trees to new locations.

I don’t advise readers here about preparing lawns in the fall for next spring because I must confess that I don’t aerate and thatch the soil, and I don’t fertilize.  Because my property was first cultivated in the early 18th century, I feel that I get a free pass to a very naturalized lawn accepting both crab grass and dandelions with grace.  After all, that’s the way it looked back then when lawn mowing was accomplished by grazing sheep.  Is this what they call rationalization?

Does it help if I promise to talk to a lawn expert soon, by spring, and write about the advice I receive?  Maybe I’ll even follow it myself! 

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (PrimaveraHomes.com), affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner (PrimaveraPR.com). For questions about selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.