Ten “must do” chores for fall

GARDENING GODDESS • BY KATHY JENTZ —

September is a busy time for many of you, with work and school taking up most of your time. Do not ignore those gardens just because Mother Nature appears to be slowing down. Continue to deadhead, prune, and weed as you did all spring and summer. This will help set a good foundation for next year’s garden.

Here is a top 10 list of fall gardening chores. Try to tackle two or three of these items each weekend throughout the autumn then you and your garden will be all set for a long winter’s nap.

1. Bring in houseplants

I have a neighbor across the street who loves to give her spider plants a “summer vacation” from her elementary school classroom. It is a nice way to decorate your front porch in pleasant weather, but don’t forget to take them in before that northeast wind comes up towards the end of this month.

2. Set up bird feeders

Take your feeders out of storage or down from your yard. Scrub with weak bleach solution (gloves on!). Thoroughly dry the feeders then hang in a good spot. Take into account not just from which windows you and your pets will best witness the feathery floor shows this upcoming winter but also what is best for the birds. Is there shelter nearby that they can quickly duck into such as an evergreen shrub?

3. Rake leaves and build up your compost pile

Pretty self-explanatory. This is one of my most hated chores, so I’m always looking for shortcuts. Leave the leaves where they fall for a few weeks; do not feel the rush to clean up each one as it falls and soon enough a blustery day will come along and cut your task in half.

Buy a small “shrub” rake. This has been one of my best tool investments. It has made the task of reaching into azalea and rose bushes to pull out that clump of stubborn brown oak leaves ever so much better.

4. Mulch around roses, strawberries, tender perennials, etc.

Again, self-explanatory and not much I can share to cut the work here, other than to take a long slow walk around your garden to make sure you haven’t missed a favorite plant or two. Also make sure that mulch is not building up around the base of trees. Your trees should have a well around them, not a volcano.

5. Clean up and till veggie beds

After the first frost, there won’t be any mystery about what needs ripping out, composting, or tilling under. I call this the “overcooked broccoli” effect – nothing is as unattractive as a tomato plant past its prime. While you’re at it, pull out those suffering impatiens and the rest of your spent annuals, as well.

6. Plant flowering bulbs

A little work this month or next will pay in big dividends next spring. Set aside an evening with a sketch pad to plot out and purchase what should go where and you’ll be ready the next crisp Saturday afternoon to start digging and planting.

One of my bulb-planting tips is to look over your shoulder frequently. Many times I’ve caught my “friendly” neighborhood squirrels watching my moves, quite attentively memorizing each hole. Some have the nerve to not even wait until I’ve left the vicinity before starting their feast. My main tip to curb them is to buy a bulk shaker of red pepper flakes (I found some at a Dollar Store last year!) and shake away both in the hole with the bulb and on top of the disturbed ground.

7. Lift tender bulbs

This task could be combined with #6 — as you pull out your elephant ears, cannas, and caladiums, you could place tulips and daffodils in those same holes. Let the tender bulbs dry in a sunny, protected spot, then wrap in newspaper to store in your cellar or garage.

8. Clean and store tools

Yeah, yeah, we know this has been on your ‘to do’ list for eons and it certainly not one of the more “fun” gardening endeavors, but move it to the top of your list and maybe it will get a chance this year.

Think of the scraping and scouring as a Zen meditation exercise and maybe you’ll actually learn to enjoy it one day. OK, maybe not. Here are two tips to make this chore easier: After cleaning and drying your garden tools for the long winter storage, spray them with a coat of cooking spray or WD40. And second, fill a bucket with sand and mix in motor oil. Store your tools in this and give them a stir each time you pull them out. This gives you cleaning, sharpening, and lubricating benefits all at once.

9. Divide over-crowded perennials and move shrubs

I like to call this time of year “moving season.” My gardening at this point mostly consists of walking around in circles and trying to debate what can move where. For some this is the heart of gardening; for others, it is a drab chore. My only advice is to only dig up as much as you’ll be able to replant that same day or next. In this way, I believe many gardeners are more ambitious than their time and energy allows.

10. Work in compost and fertilizers

Most of us cut out fertilizing after late summer, but evergreens, trees, shrubs, and your lawn would appreciate an extra vitamin boost before the hard freezes set in.

And one bonus tip

Attend a local garden club meeting or garden center class – The kids are back to school, so why not take a few hours to study up on some landscape trends or refresh your memory on some planting techniques? Many of these classes are free and open to the general public.

For instance, Mike Raupp. Entomology Professor at University of Maryland, will be speaking to the Takoma Horticultural Club about garden pests on September 21 at 7:30 pm in the Takoma Community Center, Takoma Park, MD. The event is free and open to the public. Make continuous learning part of your autumn agenda!

Kathy Jentz’s own “to-do” list just keeps growing as she expands her gardens.

About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.