THIS RURAL LIFE: Fall is a great time for gardening

By Ed Dunphy

Fall is a great time for gardening!  In our area farmers will tell you that they start planting fall crops “after the first soaking rain in August.” Keep that in mind, rather than a specific date to start planting your fall crops.

Some of the best vegetables to plant in the fall are the same ones that work well in early spring.  Think leafy greens such as lettuce, kale and spinach.  Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets and carrots are wonderful fall crops.  Sometimes seeds and small potted vegetable transplants are hard to find in the fall; the big box stores tend to be making room for snow blowers and Christmas lights.  Traditional farm and garden centers will stock fall garden seeds and vegetable plants in peat pots.  Just like in spring, always use a good organic fertilizer like Espoma Garden Tone.

If you have perennial flower gardens you can sometimes get a second bloom by cutting the deadheads.  Harvest the seeds from perennial flowers and scatter them in areas where you want to encourage additional flowers to grow next year.  If your spring-flowering and other dormant perennials are getting a little crowded, now is a good time to divide and transplant them.  Always divide in the cool hours of the day and water liberally.

Fall is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils.  They will reward you and your garden with color just when you need it next spring!

Almost any perennial plant does best when planted in the fall.  Trees and shrubs are no exception.  If you think about how our seasons run, we tend to get lots of moisture in the cool fall months.  This encourages good root development.  Perennials will be well established before they encounter the stress of the hot dry summer.  When determining where and how to plant a tree, follow these guidelines:

  • Stay at least 15 feet away from your house, sidewalk, driveway, and other trees.  Allow for the amount of space that the mature tree will take up in and above your yard.
  • Dig a hole twice as wide and the same depth as the root ball. Position the tree in the hole so that it is in the ground at the same relative height as it was before transplanting.  In other words, you are transplanting the tree, not burying it!
  • Fill the hole with a mix of leaf compost and existing soil. Add an amendment like Espoma Bio-Tone Starter Plus to the soil and compost mixture.
  • Stake the tree to give the roots time to establish themselves before they have to keep the tree upright all by themselves.
  • Water weekly for the first two years.
  • Put 2 inches of shredded hardwood mulch around the tree as far out as the drip line but away from the trunk itself.  Always make sure that the root flair at the bottom of the trunk is still visible.

Establishing grass and feeding an established lawn is best done in the fall.  Fertilize your grass in late September or early October.  During this period of time the grass is green but doesn’t make a lot of top growth.  The nutrients from the fertilizer will help the grass plant focus on root development, making it much more drought-tolerant next July.  If planting a new lawn, don’t skimp on seed. Use at least 7 lbs. of grass seed per 1000 square feet of yard.  New lawns require phosphorous fertilizer.  Maintenance fertilizer for the lawn has zero phosphorous.  Look for a lawn starter fertilizer containing phosphorous when planting a new lawn.

After you get all this work done, don’t forget to reserve some time to take a stroll around the yard and garden and enjoy the fruits of your labor!