One thing that sets fall gardening apart from spring gardening is the pace, said Elizabeth Pesci of Greensburg.
âIn the spring there is so much to do on a schedule; but in the fall, you can take your time and go a little slower, âsaid Pesci, who is Penn State Extension’s master gardener and treasurer of the Greensburg Garden Center.
As the growing season draws to a close and you prepare your gardens for winter, “You can actually stop and smell the flowers,” she said. âWe are generally less busy in the fall.
However, the slower pace doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of work to be done just yet.
Fall is a good time to grow one last crop of vegetables in cooler weather, to keep the flowers vibrant for as long as possible, and lastly, to overwinter.
There is still time to plant
âRight now is a great time to plant late-season crops, like spinach, kale, greens and bok choy,â said Mandy Smith, Penn State Extension Master Gardener coordinator for Westmoreland County.
Broccoli and kohlrabi are also good to plant now, said Dave Vargo, owner of the Kiski Plaza Garden & Feed Center in Leechburg.
Pesci adds Brussels sprouts to the list.
Fall is a good time to plant lots of trees and shrubs, Pesci said.
âThere are less weeds, the soil is still a good temperature for planting and we usually have enough rain,â she said. “I would wait to plant some of the more delicate trees or shrubs, like Japanese maple, in the spring.”
Moving from garden to lawn, September is also a good time to overseed if your grass is fine or patchy in spots, Pesci said.
It’s also best to split and transplant ornamental grasses and daylilies in the fall, she added.
For a bit of winter color, it’s time to plant small bulbs that bloom in January and February, Pesci said. Some of her favorites include winter aconite, winter crocus, snowdrops, and Puschkinia.
The latter “is like a small delphinium that blooms at the end of February,” she said. “I love it, even though you don’t see it here that often.”
She recommends planting clusters of these bulbs together in a prominent location, as the plants are small. To take
Look more closely
Pesci enjoys walking around his flower gardens while they are still producing to gauge their visual appeal.
âYou can walk around the garden with a pen and pencil and take notes,â she said. âI look at each space and decide if I like it, or what I want to change for the next year.
âYou might like it the way it is, or you might think, ‘I would like more blue or more pink’ or ‘This doesn’t really belong here. “”
Extend flowering time
Favorite traditional fall flowers like mums, asters and flowering cabbages and kale are now on sale, Vargo said, and will add pop to the fall garden, but the lifespan of the flowers. summer can also be extended.
Since you never know when the first frost will strike, he said, some sort of row or garden cover can be a good investment.
âYou might have a cold night, then it will be nice for the next two or three weeks,â he said. âYour flowers will last if you protect them. “
âThe blankets will retain heat overnight. They can insulate the garden at 3 or 4 degrees and that’s usually all you need, âPesci said. âJust make sure they’re tight to the ground. You don’t want the cold wind to pass under them.
Cutting down the faded flowers also helps the plant keep producing, Smith said.
To dig or not to dig
Whether or not to dig up the bulbs before the ground freezes can depend on the individual plant.
âMe and many of my friends have found that gladioli, if planted deep enough, will come back every year,â she added, but the tropical varieties should come out of the ground.
Among those that should be dug up are canna lilies, dahlias and elephant ears, Pesci said.
âWe still have relatively cold winters, so digging up your bulbs is a good thing,â Smith said.
To prepare the bulbs for overwintering above the ground, shake up loose soil and then arrange them in a cool, dry indoor space to dry.
âIf they are dry, they are less likely to be infected with fungi,â Pesci said.
Once dry, they can be wrapped in peat moss or paper and placed in boxes, or hung in mesh bags, and then stored away from direct light in a cool, dry place, such as a garage or basement.
Pesci recommends labeling them so that they return to the ground in the right place in the spring.
Put the garden to bed
These days there are two schools of thought on what to do with gardens, and especially perennials, during the winter – is it better to clean them in the fall or leave the plants withered until spring?
âWhether you let your flowers go to seed depends on how you want your garden to look or if you want it to self-seed,â Pesci said. âIf you don’t mind having some sort of messy garden, you can let that happen. It provides food and shelter for birds.
âSome people prefer a nice, tidy garden,â she said. âEveryone has a different philosophy. There is nothing wrong.
In recent years, Penn State Extension has recommended leaving the garden as is until spring, Smith said.
“This benefits the insect larvae by giving them places to overwinter,” she said. âLeaving the seeds to the resident birds gives them something to eat to build muscle for the winter.
âWe think of the garden not only as a benefit for you, but also as an ecosystem for other creatures,â she said.
Vargo, on the other hand, thinks it’s best to clean old vegetation, to get rid of potential plagues from plants and pests.
He also recommends turning the soil after the weather is cold but before the soil freezes.
âYou’re going to turn insect eggs and expose them to the cold. You won’t get them all, but it helps control a lot of them, âhe said. âEverything you clean helps prevent disease. “
As for the vegetable garden, Pesci and Vargo recommend sowing a cover crop like ryegrass after clearing old plants. Alternatively, it can be littered with clean straw or mulch.
The cover crop will hold back the growth of weeds, while the roots will help loosen the soil while holding it in place. In the spring, the grass should be returned to the soil to add nutrients.