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Fall gardening tips

Updated on January 6, 2018

Fertilize Lawns with a ‘Fall/Winter’ Fertilizer

Fall rains bring brown lawns back to life and it’s nice to see green grass again but you don’t want to encourage a lot of lush green growth as we move into colder weather so use the ‘Fall/Winter’ lawn fertilizers available at the garden stores this time of year. They are formulated to encourage strong root growth and are much lower in nitrogen (which produces lush foliage growth) than the spring and summer formulas.

Discourage Spider Mites

After a long dry summer shrubs accumulate a lot of dust which is a spider mites best friend! Shrubs such as Skimmia, Laurel, Privet, Boxwood and Camelia, are especially susceptible. Even if these shrubs have been getting irrigation all summer, if all the water has been at the base of the plant the foliage has been left to collect weeks or months worth of dust. It’s time to give these plants a good shower with the garden hose. Use a forceful spray nozzle and give these shrubs a good soaking.

Shop for trees and shrubs

Looking to add some trees and shrubs with fall color to your landscape? Fall is the time to shop for them! You don’t have to rely on faded or discolored plant tags or someone else’s description of the color. And fall is an excellent time to plant!

Leave a few rose hips for the birds

Most of us like to do a little rose grooming later in the fall. When trimming spent blossoms cut stems just above a five-leaflet branch instead of the three-leaflet branch. Look for a five-leaflet branch that is growing to the outside to keep future branching growing outward, not inward. Leave a few spent blooms so they can go to hips. These rose hips are a good food source for the birds.

Prune Cane Berries

Prune Raspberries, Blackberries and other cane berries by removing all canes that produced fruit this year. If you have everbearing varieties cut back half the canes that have already born fruit this summer.

Lawn renovation

If you missed your chance last spring to renovate the lawn you have another chance now. Fall is a good time to de-thatch, aerate, and over-seed the lawn. To check if your lawn needs de-thatching take a small plug of sod out the lawn. If there is a half-inch layer or more of dead grass (thatch) it’s a good indication that water is having a tough time getting through. You can rent power de-thatching machines or hire a landscape maintenance company. I recommend hiring a professional because they are geared up to do this kind of work and can get it done quickly and at a reasonable cost. If your soil is compacted it’s a good idea to aerate. That is also a job you can do with rental equipment but it’s rather cumbersome and is a better job for the professional. While some homeowners are content to walk around the grass with spikes attached to their shoes an aerating machine will actually take small cylindrical plugs out of the lawn without further compacting the soil.

If your lawn has bare spots now is a good time to sprinkle new grass seed. Rough up the area with a rake, spread the seed and cover with a thin layer of mulch and keep moist (hopefully fall rains will do this for you!)

If you have de-thatched the lawn it will need to be overseeded. Follow the directions above. It’s a good idea after spreading the thin layer of mulch to tamp with a lawn roller.

Prepare in advance for transplanting trees and large shrubs

Planning to move some plants this fall? Here is a way to prepare that will make the transition easier. About 8 to 10 weeks before transplanting a tree or large shrub take a shovel and slice a half circle around the drip line of the plant or where you think the perimeter of the root ball is going to be. Slice down as far as you can, use a long spaded transplanting shovel if possible. About 4 to 5 weeks later slice around the other half. After each of these ‘slicings’ feeder roots will develop inside the cuts. By the time you are ready to transplant the tree or shrub will have developed a whole new set of roots ready to start working in their new spot. As with any transplanting make sure the plant is well watered before and after the move. This will help reduce transplant shock and insure a healthy recovery!


Get after those weeds before they set seed and you save a lot of time and frustration next spring. Keep small plastic buckets tucked away in different areas of the garden so that you can ‘impulse’ weed and have a handy place to throw them. When the buckets are full take them to the compost heap or yard waste bin. Be sure to punch holes in the bottom of the buckets so water doesn’t accumulate.


Buy Bulbs now while selection is at its best, but wait until the weather cools before planting. Store them in paper bags (not plastic!) and keep in a cool dry spot until you’re ready to plant. Wait until daily temperatures are averaging in the lower 50’s. This will discourage early sprouting that winter freezes could damage.

Speaking of planting bulbs…

Forget the bulb planter and get out the shovel! For a more natural look when planting bulbs like tulips and daffodils in amongst other plants dig holes with a shovel or trowel. Make the holes big enough to accommodate groups of five to nine bulbs each and vary the number randomly.


Now that new growth on shrubs has hardened off it’s time to take cuttings from plants like hydrangeas, rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and viburnums.
Take 4-6 inch cuttings. Try to take them first thing in the morning. Strip all but the top two or three leaves, dip the ends in rooting hormone and place in a planting tray filled with sterile potting mix, perlite or sand. Water well and place in in-direct sunlight. Keep moist and move into a greenhouse or bright room for the winter.

Dried Flowers

Harvest flowers such as annual statice, strawflower, Bachelor Button, and hydrangeas. Hang in loose bunches in a cool dark spot. Check in a few weeks and you should have the makings for a nice dried flower bouquet.


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