It seems that we may finally have a fall, and thanks to Tropical Storm Nestor we finally have some moisture back in our soils. The welcome reprieve from sweltering August-September has me ready to come back from indoor hibernation and catch up with my landscape and garden. Here are some things you might consider for your landscape this fall.
Trees and Shrubs
Fall is an excellent time to add new trees and shrubs in the landscape. When correctly sited and planted, a fall-planted tree will perform better than a spring-planted tree because it will establish roots before the warm summer temperatures draw moisture from it and create stress. If you are installing containerized material, I recommend that you remove as much of the potting medium as possible. Start by gently shaking off as much loose material as you can. Some plant material may be completely pot-bound, in which case you will want to cut some of the outer roots and then use a hose to spray loose the container soil. Or you can try soaking the root ball in something like a half full wheelbarrow. By removing all the container media, you will be able to evaluate the condition of the roots, remove circling roots, and avoid planting below grade. November is also the best time to relocate trees and shrubs within the landscape you already have.
Avoid the urge to prune trees and shrubs this time of year. Our trees and shrubs are slowly moving into dormancy, and pruning triggers growth that we don’t want right now. Dead or broken material can and should be removed, but save routine pruning and hedging for early spring.
Start planning for next year’s bounty by doing your soil test now. I know that sounds crazy, but if the soil pH needs amending the process can take a while, so the sooner you get that lime (dolomitic is preferred) incorporated, the more likely the pH will be where you need it come next spring. Fallen leaves make a great weed barrier if you did not get around to planting fall veggies or a winter cover crop. Leaves can also be tilled or forked into the soil to improve soil texture and build organic matter.
Take time to reflect on your garden from this year and make note of things such as varieties that either impressed or disappointed. Did you have an adequate number of plants for each vegetable? Basically, note any bits of information that will help you make improved decisions when combing the seed catalogs and nurseries next spring. And while we are on seeds, now is a great time to go through your cache of leftover seeds to check them for viability. A simple germination test can be done by placing ten seeds in a moist paper towel inside a plastic sandwich bag. Put the bag on top of the fridge, which will provide just enough warmth to help speed germination. If rates are low then it may be time to throw the seeds out.
Ornamentals and Perennials
Most of our perennials and ornamental grasses do better if we delay cutting stalks and seed heads until after winter. The foliage and seed heads are not only attractive in the winter landscape — the seeds are an important food source for birds. The foliage can also help to insulate the crowns and help you remember where things are when reapplying mulch or pine straw in winter. If you battled foliage disease then I advise total removal of the entire plant. This will help to reduce the amount of inoculum present to re-infest next year’s foliage. But I have witnessed the insulating power of “healthy dead” foliage in my landscape. For two consecutive winters I have had a clump of lemongrass come out of winter with a handful of live shoots. Lemongrass roots are winter hardy only in zone 8b at best. Just don’t tell them!