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 Autumn Gardening

Dig in and start your fall garden!


Plant mums, asters and pansies to give your garden a burst of color and beauty this Fall. Mums and asters are perennials that come back every year in the fall.


Icicle Pansies will bloom during the fall and into the winter and then bloom again with your bulbs early next spring.


Fall Gardens and Flowers

Pansies will bloom all fall into winter and then bloom again with your bulbs early the next spring. Mums and asters are perennials that come back year after year to flower in the fall.


We can all plant traditional chrysanthemums sometimes called mums. But there are some alternatives you may want to consider, like ornamental peppers. The show comes from brightly coloured fruit that cover the top of the plant. If you get tired of looking at them, you can harvest the peppers and add them to a favorite recipe.

Ornamental peppers

Some other treats for the eye and appetite are the ornamental cabbages and kales. And if you live in the mild part of the country, pansies will bloom all winter long. For the shade garden, you might try the Japanese anemone. And for full sun, it's hard to beat New England asters and ornamental grasses. All of these will be sure to come back in your garden next year.


Now, don't forget that fall is one of the best times of the year to get shrubs and trees in the ground, even though we traditionally do most of our plant shopping in the early spring. You wouldn't want to miss out on a beautiful foliage display like on a Japanese maple or the beautiful fruit set on pyracantha.



Pansy flower

Pansies are a biennial and when planted in the fall will often bloom again early the next spring. They can also be grown as an annual. Pansies perform best during the cool days of spring and fall.


The plants need some shade and lots of moisture during hot weather. A rich soil and ample moisture are needed for the production of large flowers. Keep plants in bloom by removing old flowers before seeds are formed. Fertilize during the growing season. Young plants, overwintered outside, need protection.


The most prolific pansies are those that gardeners deadhead daily and give biweekly feedings of balanced fertilizer. While it isn't at all difficult to raise pansies from seed, economically priced flats of the flowers are so readily available that devoting the time and space to homegrown pansies hardly seems worth the effort.


Pansies over-wintering potential

Each spring, before other flowers appear on the scene, and in autumn, after more tender annuals and perennials are long gone, pansies in myriad hues edge terraces, frame patios, and fill window boxes and pots. Raised as annuals in Zones 3 through 8, these low-growing beauties become leggy as spring turns into summer, a sign that it's time to cut them back and await a repeat performance in the fall.


More pansies than ever before have been blooming in northern gardens this fall. Skeptics who think pansies are strictly for spring planting already know the plants have a built-in cold hardiness. That makes them ideal for fall planting as far north as the new USDA hardiness Zone 4B, which includes much of the Upper Midwest.


Consumers are skeptical because the idea of fall-planted pansies violates the mainstream sequence of what blooms when: bulbs and pansies in the spring, annuals and perennials in the summer and mums in the fall. But more gardeners are now pulling out ragged annuals around Labor Day and replace them with pansies. Or plant pansies in the fall in the same beds with spring bulbs. Pansies will bloom into November and again in April and May around the ankles of daffodils and tulips.


Over-wintering tips

• Choose an area with sun to partial shade
• Plant in moist soil, enriched with organic matter
• Ensure area has good drainage by mounding up raised beds
• Insulate roots by adding mulch around base of plants
• Select pansy varieties with medium size blooms



Tulip flower

Tulips prefer indirect light and moderately moist soil conditions. To keep them healthy, make sure they are in locations that are constantly between 60 and 65 degrees F.


Planting times vary, depending upon your climate zone, but as a general rule, earlier is better. Bulbs need to establish strong root systems, before the frosts of winter set in and the bulbs enter a new cycle in preparation for spring blooming. Remember to plant bulbs in an area that drains well and water newly planted bulbs to help those roots get going!


Is it true that bone meal is the best bulb food?

Most bone meal today has been so thoroughly processed that essential nutrients have been literally boiled out. Spring flowering bulbs need no fertilizer for their first season of blooming. A healthy Dutch bulb will already contain all the food it needs to support one season of spectacular growth. Bulbs that will be left in the ground to naturalize will benefit from well-rotted cow manure or special bulb fertilizer when the shoots first appear in spring and again the following fall.


Is it true that the bigger the tulip bulb, the better the flower?

Generally the bigger the tulip bulb the bigger the flower. But bigger does not necessarily mean better. The bulbs of a species tulip such as Tulipa tarda for example would appear quite tiny beside a large Darwin Hybrid bulb such as "Apeldoorn." But these small species tulips are some of the most delicate and lovely bulb flowers you can grow. They are hardy as well. Tulip bulbs are sold by caliber or size. For big showy displays, the larger caliber bulbs are certainly worth the price. However, some excellent bargains are to be had by buying lots of smaller caliber bulbs for brightening up a marginal spot in the spring yard.


Do tulips prefer sun or shade?

Tulips love both. But when planting this fall, don't be fooled by the patterns of sun and shade in the fall garden! Remember that come spring, when tulips bloom, all the deciduous trees in your yard will be leafless, allowing lots of sun in your spring garden!


What are "botanical" or "species" tulips?

Species tulips refers to those varieties which have not been bred or hybridized and remain essentially as they are found in nature. Botanical tulips are hybrids, but hybrids which remain very close to the original species. Neither of these terms refers to "wild" tulips. All tulips sold by the Dutch, including the species and botanical tulips, are actually propagated and grown in Holland. Species and botanical tulips are generally smaller than other tulips.


Chrysanthemums (or garden mums)

Garden Mums flowers

Most of the chrysanthemums blooming in gardens this fall will go dormant when the weather turns cold, then resume growing in spring. But some won't make it, even though mums are supposed to be hardy perennials.


Inadequate snow cover, extreme cold, heaved roots and the absence of a thick organic mulch all contribute to their demise. Dormant mums mulched with 4 to 6 inches of chopped leaves or straw are most likely to live through the winters.


A quick way to divide a year-old mum clump, is to use a sharp shovel to cut the mum in half vertically and horizontally. Next, cut each of the quarters in half, winding up with 8 chunks. Dig up each of these sections and plant them elsewhere in the garden in a hole enriched with compost. Snip out at soil level any hard, woody stems and all but 4 to 5 of the young succulent stems. Then tamp down the soil, and water.


Another way to divide an existing clump is to insert a shovel to its full depth into the soil around two sides of the plant, make a third insertion on another side, angling it to get under the rootball, then lift the whole clump up and out of the hole. Loosen the soil around the roots with a trowel.


On the outer rim of the rootball you'll notice lots of new shoots with small, young hair roots, snip these rooted stems from the mother plant and place them in water for later planting. Because of the large number of young rooted stems that can be taken from the periphery of a year-old mum clump, you don't even need to bother with any of the woody center portion. Compost it instead.


To get even more plants, take 4 to 5 inch cuttings from the rooted stems or from undivided clumps still in the garden. Remove the two lowest leaves, make a 45 degree cut with a razor on the bottom of the stems, dip the stem in rooting hormone, and insert it in moistened vermiculite in shallow flowerpots, the type used for forcing spring bulbs is excellent.


When a rooted cutting is planted in May it's hard for a novice to visualize how much space the mature plant will require by fall. Planting rooted cuttings 25 inches apart seems like a tremendous waste of space. Yet a mum in flower needs at least that much room.


Pinching makes chrysanthemums compact and bushy. Pinching is just another name for pruning with your fingers, removing about an inch of stem per pinch. Start pinching the tips of rooted cuttings when they reach 6 inches. They'll develop additional stems from the leaf nodes below the pinch. When the new stems are 6 inches long, pinch those tips and the plants will produce more stems from the leaf nodes. By late July when pinching should stop the single stem, rooted cutting planted back in May will have developed into a bushy compact plant with hundreds of stems with buds forming on their tips.


With organic fertilizer, compost and abundant water, chrysanthemums, even the so-called low growers, tend to get top heavy. It's disappointing to nurture the plants from their infancy to maturity, have them come into full bud, then see them topple over from the sheer weight of the blooms. Add some wind and a driving rain and your prize mums will be flat on the ground. To preclude floppy chrysanthemums, support the taller ones with twigs pruned from trees inserted in the ground around the plants when they're half grown, and as the mums continue to leaf out during the summer their foliage soon hides the branches.



Check your garden soil to make sure there is enough good topsoil. Flower beds need 8 to 12 inches of good quality soil. No matter what condition your soil is in, it's always a good idea to add a large amount of organic matter, well rotted manure or compost mixed with peat moss for example, to your garden at the beginning of each growing season. It's also beneficial to mix in some inorganic fertilizer or bone meal as well. Organic matter works like a sponge, allowing the soil to hold nutrients and water, resulting in good strong plants. Micro-organisms tend to deplete nitrogen quickly as the organic material decomposes, so additional fertilizer will help replenish the soil. Also see soil improvement information.


Fall fertilizing tips

• Use ferti-lome Premium Pansy food when planting and then follow up with a balanced water soluble plant food (like 20-20-20 Geranium, Hanging Basket & Pansy Food).

• Add nutrients to the soil. A fertilizer with 0-10-10 will promote root and bud growth on trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines and perennials. Re-mulch since mulch decomposes rapidly in hot weather.

• Begin feeding camellias and azaleas with a 2-10-10 food to stimulate good flower bud development.

• Feed trees, shrubs and ground covers with a 10-10-10 fertilizer.

• To keep lawns green and healthy, give them a 14-8-8 combination.

Also see plant nutrients.


Fall garden clean up

Cleaning up the garden in the fall is about a lot more than just making it look tidier. If you'll do just a few extra things along the way as you clean things up, it can make a big impact on your garden next year. For instance, during the last weeks of summer, while taking down spent flowers and vines, make sure that many of the seeds fall to the ground, so they'll come up next year. Do this with many plants in your garden throughout the year that are hearty volunteers, like larkspur, celosia and globe amaryth.


There are some things you don't want to come back in your garden, like diseases and pests. If you find problem areas, remove them. This goes for the leaves of your roses that are afflicted with black spot. As you remove diseased materials, don't throw them in your composter. This will help prevent spreading the problem in your garden next year. If you're using pruners on infected materials, you might want to clean them by dipping them in a household disinfectant. But if there is no disease problem, leaves and small twigs should be added to your compost. The leaves of perennials are the perfect addition to making some really rich compost for next year's garden. By spring, you'll have a free source of humus to mix in your flower beds.


When cutting back many of your perennials such as peonies and lilies, mark them with metal stakes so you'll know where they are in the early spring. By adding a generous layer of mulch to certain parts of your garden, you can keep winter weeds down and sometimes even defy the critics by bringing something through that normally doesn't winter over.



Select a autumn flower


Three Autumn flowers

Click on a flower from the list below to see a photo and find lots of growing and plant care tips.










   Garden Mum

   Gerbera Daisy


   Kale - Flowering


   Ornamental pepper









Autumn gardening

What a beautiful time of year to get back out in the garden!

With the leaves turning to beautiful shades of oranges, reds and yellows, and the crisp morning air, now is the time to prepare your garden for autumn planting and for the winter ahead.


Rudbeckia flower

Rudbeckia - Black Eyed Susan

Aster flower


Garden Mum flower

Garden Mum

Icicle Pansy flower

Icicle Pansy - Midnight Glow

Strawflower flower




Fall gardening checklist and timetable

Many garden activities are best performed during the autumn months. While the timing of garden activities is not precise, consider the following as a guide for the autumn gardener.


• Replace spent annuals
• Prepare soil for autumn planting
• Plant spring bulbs
• Dig and store tender bulbs
• Rake and remove fallen leaves
• Cut back spent perennials / biennials
• Remove annuals damaged by frost
• Harvest herb stems and roots
• Cease cutting roses and flowers
• Fertilize plants as needed
• Sow seeds for succession planting
• Plant peonies, poppies and irises
• Add winter mulch, if needed
• Prepare bulbs for forcing and chill
• Repair garden accessories
• Clean, sharpen and oil lawn and garden tools
• Divide and transplant perennials and ground covers
• Apply dormant fertilizer to trees, shrubs, ground covers and vines
• Plant and mulch hardy annuals for winter
• Plant bare-root trees, shrubs, ground covers and vines
• Transplant roses
• Plant bare-root roses
• In southern zones, cease watering to induce dormancy


Keep in mind that the exact timing of these activities will vary based on your zone and the current season's weather.


September 1 to 7

For color in the fall garden and for decorating holiday tables, consider shrubs full of red and orange berries like pyracanthas and cotoneasters.


Plan for color in the winter garden by planting annuals this month. For spring blooming perennials, plant primroses, violas and phlox.


Feed and water deeply all roses this month for beautiful fall blooms. Do you want a new lawn? Put it in this month or October. For best results, be sure to get the right lawn varieties for your area and climate.


September 8 to 14

Stake and tie chrysanthemums as they get larger to prevent them from drooping. Their show of full bloom is around the corner.


Keep fertilizing your lawn on a regular basis. This will keep it greener longer into the cool season.


Shrubs and trees planted in the fall get a head start. Cooler weather and coming rains help them establish good root systems that will support the surge of vigorous growth once spring arrives.


Even though September marks the beginning of fall, the weather may still be warm, so water your garden on schedule.


September 15 to 21

Remove dead or infected branches and thin hedges as part of your garden cleanup.


Plant winter sweet peas now to enjoy their blooms by the new year.


Don't let the container garden go to pot. Replace summer annuals with those that will bloom this fall and winter. Pansies, violas, Iceland poppies and snapdragons are good choices.


Prepare bulb beds well before planting. Dig deep (at least 12 to 14 inches). Add organic material. The secret to beautiful blooms is having an enriched, well-draining soil.


September 22 to 28

For a bright show of colorful spring flowers, plant bulbs this fall. Try daffodils, freesias and sparaxis for starters.


Perennials, bulbs and plants with rhizomes or tubers tend to clump and need to be divided to keep them healthy. Competition and overcrowding weakens growth.


Deciduous and semi-deciduous perennials can be cut back to about four inches in height from the ground when you divide and transplant.


Divide shasta daisies.


Select trees that provide a fall show of colorful leaves and pick the ones you like best. Choose from those that turn yellow, red, orange or bronze.


Composting leaves

There's nothing better for the garden than compost. And there's no better ingredient than leaves. Leaves are a natural. They're plentiful and nutrient rich. The reason that leaves make such good compost is that they're made up of lots of complex chemicals that, once broken down, plants love.


Leaves can be composted into rich humus for the garden. You can pack leaves in bins made of landscape timbers, but you can make compost with leaves in something as simple as a wire cage. It doesn't matter what you make compost in, it's the ingredients and the process that make the difference.


The recipe is simple. It just takes organic matter like leaves. You can use grass clippings or even certain kitchen scraps (avoid grease or animal fat). And keep it moist, consistently moist, but not sopping wet. And you should turn your compost pile every couple of weeks. And of course, it takes time, generally about six months. But you can accelerate the process by adding a source of nitrogen, either in the form of a granular commercial fertilizer, or manure, or even green grass clippings.


Autumn gardens

Happy fall gardening!



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