What? Fall already? What happened to summer this year? If the much too short summer left you with some garden chores undone, no worries! Fall is actually the best time of the year for new plantings. The soil is warm enough to allow root growth to occur most of the winter here in the Pacific Northwest. This gives new plants a chance to get somwhat established by springtime so they can support that burst of spring growth.
Fall is also perhaps the most important time of the year to fertilize lawns and shrubs. If your lawn only gets fertilizer once a year, apply it now. Chose an organic slow release fertilizer with a 3:1:2 ratio. Follow the application instructions on the package. A slow release fertilizer allows nutrients to be made available to the plants over a longer period of time. It’s important to use an organic fertilizer so that chemicals from runoff aren’t washed into storm drains and eventually end up in creeks or in Puget Sound, threatening our already dwindling salmon population. Fertilizing shrubs gives them a supply of nutrients to help withstand the effects of the long rains, of winter leaching out important nutrients from the soil, and contributes to the plants being in a healthier condition come spring and the vigorous growing season.
Any general cleanup you do now will make spring easier. Remove any weeds. This will reduce the population of weeds that go to seed in your garden this fall, waiting for the warmth of spring to pop up and overtake the beds. Remove any desiccated vegetable plants or fruits and berries. Mulch planting beds to suppress weed growth over the winter.
Consider planting a cover crop in the vegetable beds. A cover crop covers the soil, preventing erosion and suppressing weed growth. In spring, the cover crop can be tilled into the bed to add nutrients, improve soil structure, and increase the soils ability to hold water. Some good cover crops for our area are: fava beans, red clover, or mix these with rye or barley. The grasses don’t add nitrogen to the soil, but they do add organic matter.
You can divide perennials in the spring or fall. To divide in spring, plan to do this 6-8 weeks before the first hard frost. Tackling this chore in fall may reduce some of your “to do” list for spring, a very busy time in the garden. Be sure that newly divided perennials receive adequate water.
Reseeding lawn areas is best done prior to end of September to ensure good germination. If early October stays warm, you may be able to extend this into the first week or so, but germination may not be as good, requiring overseeding in the spring. Soil temperature is what is important for this process to be successful.
Put on a hat and coat if needed and get out there and make up for those lost summer days in your garden.