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Fall Garden Tips from the Garden Gnome

Fall is starting to taking hold of our neighborhood: Trees are showing their autumn splendor, leaves are turning shades of red and orange, cooler nights are making for good sleeping weather. The change in seasons also means that it’s time put your garden to rest for the winter. I know that most people are tired of gardening by this time of year, but taking care of some easy clean ups and gardening chores now will make you spring season much easier.

Start your clean up with a hot toddy for a little inspiration. Grab a smooth brandy, a tablespoon of Greensgrow honey, a lemon wedge skewered with 5 cloves, sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon and fill your cup with hot water. Enjoy the seasonal treat and have it motivate you to spend time in the garden… or take a nap!

Now onto the actual chores! Fall clean ups start with removing away any man-made objects in your garden, such as tomato cages, trellis stakes and garden art. Clean and label these items and store them in a dry place.

Next remove any leaves, debris and broken branches from your garden floor. Bugs will hide in and under any debris to keep warm for the winter. If you are giving these pests a blanket, why not offer them some warm milk to help them sleep too?

The most important thing you can do for your garden in   the fall is weed. Leaving weeds in at this time of year will force them to seed, leaving you with thousands of unsightly sprouts in the spring. Fall weeding is missed by so many gardeners and makes their spring gardening tasks much harder than it would be if you spend a little time to clear them out of your space now.

Fall, specifically October, is also the perfect time to plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips, but pay attention to the weather in our area: Planting too early can cause bulbs to sprout before winter and planting them too late can mean their roots don’t have enough time to develop before the ground freezes. It is also time to dig your summer bulbs, such as dahlias, caladiums and elephant ears, and store them over the winter. Simply replant them next spring. These bulbs (well, technically rhizomes, corms and tubers as well as bulbs) were brought up from tropical climates and will die if left where the ground freezes. A good rule of thumb is to keep an eye on the foliage. Once it begins to turn yellow and brown, it’s time to dig up them up. First loosen up the soil around the bulbs with a hand fork or trowel. Remove any leftover soil on the bulbs, discarding any bulbs that show signs of damage or rot. Underdeveloped or small bulbs can be saved, just keep in mind that they might not flower. Once the green has died back, remove it down to a half inch above the bulb.

There are many different ways to store your bulbs, but the most important lesson is to keep the bulbs from touching each other while in storage. Do not use an air-tight box; a shoebox is more manageable and will keep you from layering the plants too deep — three levels is as deep as you should go. Some gardeners use dry peat moss, sawdust or straw to store bulbs instead of wrapping them in old newspapers. Label the bulbs by type and flower color before storing. Do not store them in a cold location, such as a shed. Keep in mind the temperature needs to remain above 50 degrees — your basement is a probably a good place to start. Check stored bulbs occasionally throughout the winter and throw away any that show signs of rot. Stop by Greensgrow or your local garden center for advice if this is your first time venturing into the wonderful world of bulbs.

Now it’s time to clean and sharpen your garden tools. Cleaning these items before you put them to rest for the season will also save you time in the spring and keep them from rusting, which will save you money in the long run. Fill a pot with sand and plunge your shovels into it, cleaning off soil, plant matter and rust. Use a sharpening block and put the edge back on the tip of the blade, then coat with oil. The oil will keep your tools from rusting. Steel wool works great for rakes and pitchforks. Clean, sharp tools will make any task easier.

Fall is also a great time to add compost, manure and mushroom soil to a garden bed. Doing this now allows plenty of time for the amendments to mellow before it’s time to put seeds in once temperatures start to rise. Test your soil to see what amendments your garden needs then turn or till the amendments into the garden. This will make the soil lighter and aerated, which gives your plants an easier growing environment. This is also the time of year when you should add fertilizer to shrubs and trees. Once the plants go dormant, these nutrients will give a much needed boost to root systems without inspiring new growth.

Trees and shrubs may need some care, but take caution: Arbitrarily cutting back limbs and branches will disfigure your plant and may lead to future problems. Doing your homework will open your eyes to a whole new aspect of gardening. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice before you turn your garden into a bad topiary experiment. Edward Scissorhands is so 1990 after all.

My father would also make me turn our vegetable garden during mid-winter to kill any larva or eggs living below the frost line. Keeping your bugs at bay will also make for a better growing season. You need to go at least six inches deep — not an easy chore if you haven’t prepped your garden in the fall.

Now you have clean and inviting space to plant, why not take advantage of it and plant a few fall veggies? Leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, collards, mustard and spinach grow into the winter months and will provide additional healthy produce throughout an Indian summer or first frost. Mums, ornamental cabbages and kale will add deep colors to your garden, or try adding a bundle of corn stalks, bale of hay, pumpkins or mums to your front stoop for a great fall look. Remember: Mums are water hogs and need to be deadheaded to keep blooming. Enter our fall front door photo contest for a chance to win a Greensgrow gift card

Please continue to send in your questions about gardening to The Spirit. I will be happy to offer advice and suggestions to help make your gardens grow and enjoying everything our neighborhood has to offer this fall.

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