The ABCs of Fall Gardening

School bells and school buses — it must be September. As summer is winding down and the school year is getting started, I am thinking about the ABCs of fall gardening.

A is autumn planting.

As the nights begin to cool, it is a good time to plant fall greens. Cold weather crops such as lettuce, Brussels sprouts, endive, and collard greens can be planted now. Swiss chard and kale are also good choices. These plants love the cooler temps of fall and early winter, but may be tricky to find at local garden centers.

This year I plan to try garlic and maybe shallots. Putting garlic in the ground during October should give me fresh bulbs in July.

Now is a good time to spread grass seed and plant shrubs. You want to make sure they are getting enough water and have time to establish roots before heavy frost. Speaking of shrubs, this is not the time to prune most shrubs. Resist the urge and do a bit of research before picking up your shears. Remember the time to trim spring flowering shrubs is after they bloom.

Other shrubs such as boxwoods produce new growth after pruning. If this is done late in the year, the new growth may not have hardening off and will dry out during the winter.

And of course, this is the season for chrysanthemums. Whether you plant them as perennials or treat them as annuals, this is the flower of fall. I use them in window boxes and planters. Most years, mums and asters give me garden color through mid-November.

B is for bulbs.

Now is the time to start planning and purchasing bulbs for fall planting.

It’s a tad early to begin planting fall bulbs, but I love the planning process.

First on my list are snowdrops. They are a tiny plant, approximately 6 inches tall with a white flower that will bloom late winter or very early in the spring.

Because of their small size, this bulb, like most bulbs should be planted in mass. This might mean 20-30 bulbs or 100 plus if your garden is large. You won’t regret seeing the sweet blooms after a long winter. Over time the snowdrop bulbs will form clusters that after blooming can be separated and shared or replanted in other areas.

Other bulbs on my list include alliums, daffodils, and lily of the valleys. Alliums are related to onions and are generally deer resistant. This plant has a purple globe-like bloom and is gorgeous when planted in mass. They also make a pretty addition to spring bouquets.

Sunny yellow daffodils always brighten a garden. This reliable bulb will bloom year after year, but don’t trim the plant after blooming — let it die back naturally. This is how it stores energy for next year’s blooms.

When visiting a friend’s garden, she had a bed of lily of the valleys planted under a large tree. Even though it was past their bloom time, the green leaves provided a pretty carpet to the area. This is something I will try to duplicate in my garden.

You might have noticed that I didn’t mention tulips, my very favorite flower. Over the years I have planted hundreds of tulip bulbs and between the squirrels and deer, I rarely see a bloom. So, the few tulip bulbs I do plant are in containers safely tucked away from nature’s nibblers.

C is for chores and clean-up.

As summer fades there is much to do in the garden. This is a good time to make room in your shed. When it’s time to bring in garden hoses and garden ornaments, you want to have the storage spot ready. I get frustrated when my shed is messy and causes delays in my chores of the day. I like to have my spot ready for the pots, tomato cages and peony hoops that will soon be brought in from the garden.

Although I don’t trim down most of my plants — I like leaving them for the birds and also letting the plants self-seed — I do like a tidy yard for fall. Now is the time to clean up weeds and lay a heavy layer of mulch over the garden beds.

I will straighten up my herb container garden, and I’ll admit to you that most of these pots stay in place through the winter. I let the fallen leaves provide a protective layer over the chives and mint until early spring. Then, as the ground warms, this area will get another good clean-up.

The ABCs of gardening could easily become the entire alphabet of gardening. There is always more to learn and hours of homework when you have a garden. And just like school classes and courses of study, with information and practice you and I become better gardeners every year.