What should you be doing in the garden in autumn?
Autumn or fall? Which word I choose depends on the context. Fall might be misunderstood sometimes since it could mean other things. Autumn sounds too grandiose sometimes.
Regardless, there are some important gardening things to know about fall. It is prime time for some activities. Other activities are best not neglected until spring because spring will be much more difficult if you do. Some things might not be so great to do in the fall after all.
Things that fall is prime time for
Fall is a great time to plant grass seed. For several years in a row I have been turning some flower beds back into lawn in a low effort sort of way that you can read about in Helpless Female Lazy Method of Planting Grass for Lawn. This year I will be reseeding an area that had the outside dog kennel on it for a while.
Certain vegetables may just now finally be ready to harvest. This will include things like winter squash, which basically take all summer to mature. Don’t despair if there are a couple of light frosts, either. As long as the squash is not obviously deteriorating, it should still store for a while
Remember, you can still harvest come-again-cut-again things like broccoli. Some cabbages may have just matured. Also, some hot peppers may finally be turning color, like my husband’s favorite habaneros.
Now is a good time to get everything ready to insulate root crops, like my friend does with her carrots. If you don’t want to have to dig them all at once, consider that in-ground storage may be perfect IF you can keep it from freezing.
Things you won’t want to neglect in the fall
You will want to be aware of when the ground is really freezing. While even a few light frosts probably won’t be enough to freeze your sprinkler pipes, a few days of temperatures below freezing will. Get on someone’s list to get the pipes blown out or research rentals to do it yourself before it is panic time.
Leaves are going to be falling for a few weeks. They might be a great natural mulch in some places, but in other places they will smother your lawn or perennials. Take notice of where the wind is sending them to gather. Try to gather them before hard winter hits if it is in the wrong places. Check out how the professionals use tarps to make leaf clean up easier.
Try to do other basic clean up throughout the fall. Especially after the first frost has killed tender plants, get them out of your way. You will be happier looking out your window during the winter, plus your garden will be better prepared for spring.
Getting rid of debris also helps keep the insect pest population under control. With the debris gone, insects have to find other places to live. If you have chickens, they would probably be delighted to help you compost all this.
Winter is notorious for winds and freezing that makes branches break. If you see any dead or dying branches in your trees in the fall, you would be wise to get them pruned now. This is especially true if they are near any structures or power lines. No one likes to deal with broken roofs or lack of power in the cold.
Things you might not want to do in fall
Some people say plant trees and shrubs in the fall, but our experiences is that fall planting of trees and shrubs is risky. Early fall is a better bet, since there might be more time for the roots to get established. The challenge is that early fall weather can still be quite hot or dry, but planting later means there could be a freeze when the plant is still vulnerable.
Don’t be fooled by claims of global warming. Idaho is still solidly zone 5 when it comes to deep winter. Only zone 5 and lower plants are likely to survive the deepest Idaho winter.
Sprinkler repair should be kept to the bare necessities in fall. If something is obviously broken, you might want to fix that. Otherwise, save your repairs and updates until the spring, so that winter weather doesn’t undo your work.
If you have a greenhouse
If you are keeping anything alive in your greenhouse, consider insulating the windows during the colder months. We have done this with sheets of bubble wrap for about 5 years now. Same bubble wrap. It stays on better if the windows are clean, by the way.
It is time to bring frost sensitive plants indoors if you want to over winter them. I have done this with things as normal as zonal geraniums and as different as passion vines. A couple of times I have overwintered hot peppers. Just make sure you have someplace where these plants will get enough light, but not get frosted from being too close to a poorly insulated window. And don’t forget they need some water…
If you want to start veggies for winter eating, it is about time already. If you wait until the middle of winter, many of them won’t be producing until it is nearly spring.
For easy reference:
- Do plant grass seed
- Do harvest fall maturing produce
- Do insulate or dig root crops before they freeze in the ground
- Do blow out your sprinkler pipes before a deep freeze
- Do remove leaves that might smother other plants
- Do clean up spent or dead plants
- Do clean up insect habitat
- Do prune dead tree branches
- Don’t plant trees and shrubs too late in the fall
- Do remember what zone you are planting in
- Don’t do a lot of sprinkler repair before winter
- Do bring in tender plants before a frost if you want to overwinter them
- Do insulate greenhouse windows
- Do start some seeds if you want greenhouse produce in the middle of winter
- Don’t get overwhelmed! Just take it a day at a time!