Putting the Gardens to Bed


It’s that busy time of year where animals are out scavenging for food, trees are quickly turning from a rainbow of reds, yellows and gold’s to bare, dormant branches, and the social invitations have increased 10-fold as people scramble to eke out as much “outdoor” time as possible before the snow flies.  With fall comes a lot of splendor, beauty and romantic outings but is important not to neglect your autumn garden chores.  Conveniently, our veggie garden is easy to put to bed: pull out plants, amend the soil, cover with straw, done. My flower gardens, however, require a little more care before I can bid them goodnight for the season.  Today I am going to share the top five fall chores you can do today to guarantee beautiful blooms next spring!

1. Plant spring bulbs

Spring bulbs like tulip, daffodil, hyacinth, crocus, allium and Siberian squill need to go through a process known as “wintering”.  This basically means the bulbs need to freeze and when the ground warms in the spring they will “wake-up” and bloom.   Do this chore as soon as possible in the fall but at least before the first frost.  Trust me…you do not want to try and scrape through frozen ground!  Make sure to choose a mix of bulbs that have a variety of bloom times.  Planting early, mid and late spring bulbs will give you a longer, more enjoyable growing season come spring.  My crocus begins to bloom even before all the snow melts!  Right now is a great time to stock up on spring bulbs because most garden centers are closing up for the season and are trying to get rid of their remaining stock.  Make sure to throw out any bulbs that are soft, have black spots or smell of mold.

**I also suggest putting aside a few bulbs and storing them in a cool, dark, dry place until January so you can “force” them to bloom indoors (I’ll teach you how to do that in a later post)!**


2. Pruning

Fall is the perfect time to cut back and prune your plants, shrubs and trees.  I like to leave most things alone because they add great winter interest, but I will cut to the ground shrubs like peony that droop and look unsightly.  I like to reshape my roses, shrubs and climbing plants as well as any scraggly tree branches at this time, too.  Check out these great pruning tips from the University of Minnesota extension office.

3. Amend the soil

Fall is the perfect time to replenish your soil, especially if your climate experienced a harsh summer.  All you need to do is mound a healthy heap of organic compost (hopefully from your own compost pile!) around the base of your flowers and shrubs.  Soak the mounds deeply with water and cover with a natural mulch (I use fallen leaves).  Fall is also the perfect time to fertilize your higher maintenance plants.  The only shrubs I fertilize in my garden are my roses but you can also fertilize your hydrangeas, azaleas or other plants or shrubs that are looking particularly peaked. Make sure to use a fertilizer specifically formulated for the plant you want to use it on, this will prevent burning of the roots which can kill your plant.  Feeding your plants the nutrients they need before winter not only makes it more likely they will survive unharmed but that they will produce healthy and vibrant blooms come spring.


4. Transplant

Don’t like the placement of that Echinacea? Have an empty spot you would like to fill with extra Phlox? The cool weather of autumn is the perfect time to move your plants.  As the plants begin to go dormant they are less likely to go into shock from transplanting.  The best conditions to utilize are cool, gray days.  To transplant, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the actual plant.  Place a generous pile of organic compost in the bottom of the hole and then fill it half-full with water. Dig up the plant you want to move far enough out from the stalk to avoid disturbing its root ball.  Do not try to shake off the dirt, leave it in a big mound on your shovel and place the entire thing in the new hole.  Back fill with extra soil and lightly compress, top with organic compost, give a good soak and cover with mulch.  Repeat with as many plants as you desire!

5. Winter protection

I learned the importance of winter protection the hard way with my roses last year when half of their canes froze out.  Here in Minnesota we spent most of the winter in the path of a relentless Polar Vortex that made the 2013-2014 winter season the coldest in 35 years with over 50 days registering below zero! Burlap, Styrofoam, straw or plastic buckets make for great winter protection for delicate plants and are available at most garden centers. Refrain from wrapping your plants until the first snow, if you wrap them too early you could choke them out.  Un-wrap your plants in the spring as soon as the threat of sub-zero temperatures has passed. Also, adding a thick layer of mulch around the base of your plants will not only help protect the roots but will help keep early spring weeds at bay.  If you don’t want to risk losing your prized rose bush or other delicate plants then I highly recommend covering them for the winter.



A little time and effort now can pay off big come spring!  So before you put your garden tools and your green thumb away for the season, be sure to finish these last few chores before the snow falls, you’ll be glad you did! Happy gardening!

What is an absolute must-do in your garden before you can call-it-quits in the fall?




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