Fall is almost here and it’s time to get back out into the garden. Autumn is the perfect time to plant trees, shrubs and evergreens as well as spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils.
Why plant in the fall? It’s simple—the air temperatures are cool but the soil is still warm—perfect conditions for roots to grow well until the ground freezes. Fall planting will also give plants a head start growing in early spring.
Whether you’re planting trees or shrubs, here are some planting techniques every gardener should follow.
• Dig the hole as deep as, and two-to-three times as wide as, the original soil ball or container diameter. If the soil is especially sandy or has a lot of clay, amend it with organic matter such as compost or peat moss. Otherwise, the soil or backfill that comes out of the hole is what goes back in.
• Slope the sides of the upper portion of the hole.
• An organic plant food, such as Holly-tone, can be mixed into the soil at the time of planting to help get the plants off to a good start.
• Containerized plants should be removed from the pot and roots should be “teased” out with your fingers or a hand-held cultivator. This encourages the roots to grow outward into the new soil. If planting balled and burlapped plants, set the ball into the hole and then untie the burlap and roll it down into the hole. Synthetic rope or twine should always be completely removed.
• Make sure the top of the plant’s soil is level with the surrounding soil.
Be careful not to bury the branches or trunks.
• Backfill the hole halfway and thoroughly water to settle the soil; then add the remaining backfill.
• Build a 3- to 4-inch tall saucer, or berm, at the outside edge of the original container ball to hold water. Add 2- to 3-inch of mulch in the saucer. Slowly add water to the saucer, filling it to the brim. Apply 1- to 1½-inches of water every five to seven days after planting.
Another item to plant in the fall are spring-blooming bulbs.
Tulips, daffodils and hyacinths are all examples of spring bloomers. These bulbs are planted in the fall because they require a cold period (winter) in order to be able to produce flowers in the spring. Here are a few tips:
• Read the package. Every type of bulb has a specific depth to which it should be planted. Use a bulb planter to make digging easy.
• Plant bulbs with the pointed end facing up.
• Fertilize with a bulb fertilizer at the time of planting and again when new growth emerges in early spring.
• Squirrels can smell the fresh bulbs in the ground; they are also curious to see what you are burying. Be fastidious and clean up dried, papery coverings that fall off your bulbs during planting. Covering the area with mulch will also deter squirrels from being curious about what you planted.
• Consider planting a selection of bulbs in the backyard or somewhere where you cannot see them. Then use this area of your garden as a cutting garden in the spring. Tulips make a great cut flower.
Fall is also the perfect opportunity to renovate your lawn.
Plentiful rainfall, cooler temperatures and the lack of competition from weeds combine to make this the best time for seeding. To fill in bare spots throughout the lawn, follow these tips:
• Remove dead grass, weeds and other debris from the bare spot. Loosen the soil with a spade or garden fork and mix a generous amount of compost or peat moss, a good organic fertilizer and lime (if needed).
• Rake and level the spot.
• Use a seed mixture that best suits the area’s conditions (sun, shade, etc.).
• Lightly rake the grass seed into the surface of the soil or cover with a premium topsoil.
• Gently water. Check for water daily to keep the soil surface constantly moist for the next few weeks. Never let a newly-seeded lawn dry out.
• Fertilize the entire lawn with an organic fertilizer six to eight weeks after seed germinates.
Now that you’ve completed your planting and have renovated the lawn, it’s time to add some fall color to your patio, entryway and garden beds. Chrysanthemums, pansies, ornamental cabbage, kale and grasses can easily transform empty spots and tired summer planters. Although these plants are annuals, they will provide an abundance of color until the first deep freeze. Also, allow yourself to think outside of the box. Maybe instead of flowers, plant some corn stalks in your planters! Add scarecrows, pumpkins or gourds as well. There are no rules—add plants and decorative items that fit your personality. Make it fun and festive.
Enjoy the fall weather. Get out there and do some planting and a little renovating while the temperatures are cool. No one ever regrets the hard work of fall once spring returns and the garden blooms.
Karen Musgrave is a Certified Nursery Landscape Professional (CNLP) and a marketing and education specialist at Hicks Nurseries, Inc., 100 Jericho Tpke. in Westbury. For more information, visit www.hicksnurseries.com or call 516-334-0066.