Get To Work in the Fall Garden To Ensure A Beautiful Spring

Fall is the Best Time to Renew A Garden

Mother Nature is bestowing us with one more week of beautiful, warm weather. Maybe it’s global warming, but I’m going to look on the bright side and take advantage of it and get to work in the garden. The word “chore” has such negative connotations, especially when fall clean up is such fun.

Start Small To Accomplish Essentials

Of the many activities that beckon, starting with a few essentials will go a long way toward extending the season and ensuring a beautiful spring landscape. I find that spending just 10 minutes a day doing a little here and there during the week, and then tackling larger tasks on the weekend, allows me to stay on top of the essentials. Here are 10 things we can do to ensure a happy, healthy landscape all year round:

  1. Fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. Cool nights and warm days allow transplants to establish strong root systems before hard frost. Be sure to include fruit-bearing native trees and shrubs, such as winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) and viburnum species, to help sustain wildlife through winter. Water transplants weekly until frost, particularly if the weather is dry.
  2. Divide perennials that have outgrown their space, such as peonies, lilies, salvia, baptisia and host.
  3. Replace heat loving annuals with their cool-weather cousins: pansies, flowering kale, johnny-jump-ups (Viola cornuta), and snap dragons (Antirrhimun).
  4. If a green lawn is important to you, fall is the best time to aerate, fertilize, and seed. I’d rather live with the clover, dandelions, and the bees that rely on them. A “weedy” lawn also means little to no work. The yard will still be relatively green in color, and very “green” environmentally.
  5. Dispose of diseased vegetation, and add the rest to the compost pile. As you clear beds, think about leaving a few dried branches and seed heads, particularly from native plants. They’ll add winter interest and provide shelter and food for birds.
  6. Take advantage of fallen leaves to add a layer of mulch to your newly cleaned and planted beds. Leaf mulch is high in organic matter, free, and easy to make. It will help moderate soil moisture, temperature, and composition. If you don’t have a leaf shredder, rake your leaves into long, low piles and mow over them. Shredding the leaves helps them break down more quickly. Not enough leaves of your own? Fairfax County offers free, composted leaf mulch ( Take advantage of this wonderful free resource, and your garden will thank you in the spring.
  7. Summer planting, brutal heat, and heavy rain wreak havoc on soil. Replenish nutrients now to ensure healthy spring soil. To figure out exactly what type of soil amendments to add, obtain a soil test kit from your county Extension Office or public library.Soil test kits provide valuable information on soil composition, as well as recommendations on the proper combination of amendments for particular plants.
  8. Plant spring blooming bulbs in late fall, when the ground is cool but not yet frozen. Deer and squirrels dislike daffodils, allium and lycoris. Cover them with sharp chicken grit to deter digging. If you’re preferential to bulbs that critters can’t resist, try interplanting them with a few less appetizing varieties. To achieve an extended bloom period, layer early flowering smaller bulbs, such as glory-of-the-snow, above later blooming narcissus.
  9. Once the work is done, take time to enjoy late-blooming flowers and foliage. Aster bloomsfrom mid-summer through frost. Native varieties are attractive to butterflies. Japanese anemone is another fall beauty, great for the border, woodland, or rock garden. Native shrubs such as Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)and oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) add brilliant fall color between the tree line and the flowers.
  10. Last but not least, take a long look at your landscape, noting any gaps or failed plants. Take note of color and texture. Now it’s time to curl up with a good garden design book and think about how to fill those gaps next spring!

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