Autumn: Time to Put the Garden to Bed

September 20, 2013
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By Michele J. Kuhn

Your garden has been a riot of color, texture and enjoyment all spring and summer.

Now what do you do?

Debbie Henry, coordinator of children’s programs for The Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick, says gardeners, particularly those who enjoy growing vegetables, “shouldn’t give up on your garden yet. There are lots of things you can still grow.”

Various crops, including kale, spinach, chard, beets and even carrots can be grown during the fall and into the winter.

But, for those who are ending their growing season, preparing their garden for the fall and winter season can help them gain even more vibrant beds as spring is welcomed in.

“Putting the garden to bed properly is what makes for a successful spring,” said Karen Siciliano, a third generation landscaper whose company, Siciliano Landscape Company, was started in Red Bank by her grandfather 75 years ago. “It’s important to fertilize your turf before the first frost. If you go without it, you aren’t going to have as a green a lawn come spring. If you miss the boat on planting bulbs, then you lose out on having one of the best flowering blooms of the season.”

Autumn is the best time to clean debris and diseased plants from gardens – and avoid having a big job cleaning up during the spring.

“You really want to get out and work in your garden in the spring so you don’t want to be doing prep work that can be done in the fall,” Henry said.

Raking borders and beds helps cut down on weeds. Plant debris removed from a garden can be composted but experts warn gardeners to be sure that diseased plants be pulled out and then thrown away in the trash rather than with compost to help avoid spreading the disease.

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“It will be a healthier garden if you remove debris and disease,” Henry said.

Covering cleaned garden beds with mulch or even straw will help the soil retain nutrients as well as keep the soil in place.

Fall is also the optimum time to test soil.

Soil testing will give gardeners a plan on how to prepare their soil for whatever purpose they intend it, whether it be to grow a lush lawn or a vegetable or flower garden. The testing – additional information is available from the Monmouth County Cooperative Extension Service – helps gardeners determine the right amount of lime and/or nutrients soil needs for specific purposes.

Siciliano reminds gardeners that they should continue mowing their lawns until the first frost. “Use mulching blades which help return the grass clippings to the soil and keeps nitrogen in the soil over the winter and into the spring,” she said. “Same holds true for the leaves. If you remove leaves from the turf and shred them, they can act as compost, which is also good for over-wintering the turf.”

Fall is a good time to prune trees and shrubs to get rid of “dead, diseased or out of control” growth and to check that power lines aren’t interfering with tree limbs, Siciliano said.

“It’s also the best time to plant bulbs – tulips, hyacinths and daffodils,” she said.

Because it’s difficult “to grow grass and kill weeds at the same time,” Siciliano recommends that gardeners aerate and overseed their lawns in the fall before the first frost. Weed control is usually done in the spring.

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Carol Palmer, a Master Gardener who earlier this week gave the talk “Putting the Garden to Bed” at Monmouth County Con­nection in Neptune, recommends starting or updating a gardening journal or calendar.

“Keeping a record of your garden will help you plan for the future,” she said. “Taking photos is my way of remembering.”

A journal will help home growers see where there were gaps in their gardens and where and when more color can be added. Journals of any type can act as an important reminder of what worked well over the year and what plant or blooms needs to be jettisoned.

Fall is a great time to split large plants, propagate new ones from cuttings and continue to remove weeds. Houseplants that have summered outdoors should be brought indoors during the early fall. Palmer recommends bringing those plants inside before the heat goes on in a home for the season to allow the plants to acclimate better. It’s tough on plants to go from the cooler outdoor temperatures into an already heated house, she said.

Autumn is also the time to check gardening centers, nurseries and catalogs for spring bulbs and search for end-of-season bargains for such things as rosebushes, which should then be planted immediately, Palmer said.


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