Many books and blogs will tell you how to relax your garden in the fall. There are discussions about mulching, stopping fertilization and reducing watering when temperatures drop to promote dormancy. But there are a few other things you might want to consider.
Take a long look at your garden before winter sets in. At present, the shrubs still have their foliage, some perennials are still blooming while others are going to sow. Now is a good time to decide which plants you have that you really enjoy. Are some too big for the space? Which were problematic or disappointing? Just because you bought, nurtured, and watered a plant doesn’t mean you are bound for life. Sometimes plants just don’t work in a particular site or soil, although you might want to give them another season or two if they’re new.
Other times they are not what you expected. I bought an Artemisia which I thought was a low, silvery mound. But with the light irrigation it receives, it towers over me now, expanding and reseeding itself. I am thinking about where it should be located. It is a beautiful sage, but a large variety does not suit my small garden. Maybe I’ll move it outside of my walls or give it to a friend with more land.
These considerations can help you when spring arrives. If there are some gorgeous flowers this late summer, why not add more? So many of us are running around the nurseries in the spring and buying flowering plants in the long-awaited colors. But consider putting late summer and fall bloomers on your list. By buying them in the spring, although they may appear dull in comparison to the beginning, they will have time to settle down. We all want a garden that looks good for months on end. It takes a bit of planning.
You may already have plants that you love that you can divide to add more to your garden. Allium “Millenium” has turned out to be a wonderful plant. I started with one and now have several. With easy maintenance, no pests and little water, they light up the garden when a lot of my perennials go bad. Digging up a plant and pulling out its roots seems brutal. But done with reasonable care, it’s a free and easy way to add plants to your garden. After the flowers have wilted and the leaves start to turn yellow, I remove the ones I have in pots, cut them into pieces and replant some in the pots, others in my garden and sharing with friends. The same can be done with some but not all herbs such as oregano, lemon balm, hyssop, and sage.
While fall is definitely the time to think about cleaning up, keep in mind that reseeding is another free and easy source of new plants. Hope you picked some seeds before cutting down on your favorites like penstemon, holly shanks or bees. Scatter the seeds in your garden or give some to a friend. Only a few can germinate, but gardeners are true optimists at heart.
As an advocate for native plants and pollinators, I must mention that by not completely cutting perennials, you can leave hollow stems open for useful critters to nest during the winter or seeds to provide valuable nutrition. to birds. The stems left in place also catch snow to insulate the roots and retain moisture in the soil.
Grasses and seed heads can be very pretty in winter, especially when backlit by sunlight. Shrubs or trees with berries can be absolutely decorative as well as being a food source for wildlife.
As you think about your garden now, look for spaces that can be filled in and plants (or parts of plants, like dead branches) that should be removed. Be brave. Make way for the color, texture, and beauty you love the most.
Laurie McGrath is a Master Gardener Emeritus and has volunteered with New Mexico State University Extension in Santa Fe County for over 20 years. She is a founding member of the Santa Fe Native Plant Project (SNaPP).