For starters, Fall is the time to look for disease and infested areas: These may appear on roses, fruit and ornamental trees, and shrubs. Trouble spots are easily detected during fall when foliage is thinning out and leaves begin piling up underfoot. Such fungi should be removed by hand (wearing gloves) then thrown away in a plastic bag. If you remove leaves on roses that display blackspot, rust, or areas that have been chewed, make sure you remove them from the property.
Hail the compost heap
Next, consider a salute to truly green gardening: the compost heap. If you can spare a small, sunny spot in your garden, then you could be the proud owner of this monument to recycling, which can reduce your daily trash output while producing nutrient-rich soil for use in spring.
The first rule is not to add scraps of meat, fish, eggs, oils, butter, or cheese to your compost heap, as this will attract rats. Instead, stick to discarded vegetables, potatoes, onions, fruit remains, tea leaves, coffee grounds, leaves from the garden, small twigs, grass clippings, etc. Just pile everything on top and occasionally add a large bag of top soil and a little sand, then turn everything with a garden rake or pitch fork. Nutrient-rich composting blends from your own garden are as good or better than any blends bought at a garden center.
Playing in the dirt
Next, think soil preparation: You can do this anytime, but fall is best because soil mixes have time to settle into existing organic matter.
Whether you want to create a new bed or just want to blend various soil mixes for future use, always buy the best soils available. It may cost more, but it's well worth the expense in the long run. For a raised garden bed, measuring 3 by 8 feet, you'll need four 20-pound bags of premium garden soil, four 20-pound bags of aged cow manure, four 20-pound bags of composting materials, and four 10-pound bags of premium potting soil. Mix all these thoroughly, then dig your bed 18 inches deep while mixing the excavated red clay in with the soil mix. You may have to do this by hand to break up clumps and remove stones and pebbles. When everything is blended, just shovel the mixture back into the excavated bed. It is now ready for planting.
Not too soon to prune
If you grow fruit trees, redbuds, or tulip magnolias, for example, and all have reached maturity, you know that each has a different bud-setting time. If you prune all of these trees after the bud-setting and reduce growth by four feet in each case (and this is a modest reduction), you'll forfeit some blooming and fruit-bearing, but there are overall benefits. As pruning stimulates growth, it also reduces the trees' burden to support diseased or damaged limbs. In the case of diseased fruit trees, heavy pruning in late fall is a better solution than spraying with chemicals.
With shrubs, bud-setting times are also key. Make sure to prune your shrubs immediately after flowering, except for repeat-bloomers.
In the case of roses, dead-heading repeat-bloomers is a routine familiar to rose lovers. Species roses, in contrast, produce a spectacular show for us only once a year during late spring or early summer for only 10 days or so. But it's during the fall that we should prune our cottage climbers, T-roses, and shrub roses. Finally, don't forget the vines, because some of the most beautiful vines are also some of the most invasive. Don't be afraid to cut these back drastically, be they trumpet vine, Japanese honeysuckle, or silver lace vine, and be sure to pull them off the siding on the house to avoid structural damage. Not to worry: They regrow quickly.
TLC for bulbs
Fall is also the best time to deal with bulbs, including lifting bulbs that have stopped blooming, yet produce ample green foliage. "If you can remember in the Fall where your daffodils bloomed during Spring, you can plant new bulbs and thin out the old ones that have clumped together, then put them back into the ground," advises Lauren Thomson, creative director at Valley View Farms. "But you have to be gentle with them, when separating their membranes." Rhizomes, in contrast, produce underground root-like stems that poke out above soil level and send shoots from a tightly knotted upper part, which makes it harder to thin them out. Rhizomes are thinned out by using a knife and cutting out weaker, spent sections while leaving strong, bulbous, and knotted parts in place. (Example: Iris are grown from rhizomes.)
Victoria Elder is a professional creator of residential gardens and a regular contributor to Baltimore Home. You can email her with your gardening questions at email@example.com.