Autumn is a fine time to clean up the garden, which may sound like a chore now–but you’ll be glad you did some prep work when spring rolls around. Begin by removing old stalks of daylilies, irises, and other perennials from beds and borders, but leave coneflowers, ornamental grasses, and rudbeckias that provide seeds for hungry birds. Pull up plants that have finished but still remain in the vegetable garden, and pull weeds. Discard diseased plant parts (don’t compost them, where pests and diseases may overwinter). Once the garden is tidy, let the ground dry out for a few days. Then spread an inch of compost over the area, topped by hay, straw, or leaves.
- Sow seeds of poppies, cosmos, nasturtiums, nicotiana, larkspur, and other annuals.
- Before freezing temperatures arrive, harvest the last of the carrots and other root crops, or mulch them heavily.
- Help control erosion and keep down weeds by sowing a cover crop of winter rye where the ground is bare.
- Prune deciduous plants that have dropped their leaves and gone dormant.
- Plant hardneck garlic, which is better for cold winter areas than softneck types. Hardneck bulbs have long roots that help them stay anchored when frosts and thaws make the ground heave.
- Early this month, plant tulip bulbs 6 inches deep. When planting a group, make sure all the bulbs are at the same depth, so they’ll bloom at the same time.
- Cool season lawns can be planted, aerated, de-thatched, and fertilized this month. Lawn renovation tools are available to rent through some Home Depot stores.
- To help prevent snow mold, lower your mower blade for the last pass over your lawn. Going into the winter with a clipped lawn also discourages rodents that hide in long grass.
- Plant spring bulbs in layers. Start by digging an area 10″ deep. Drop in big bulbs, like daffodils, then add soil. Pop in medium-sized bulbs next, and add more soil. Finish up with small bulbs like crocus. Top off with more soil and mulch.
- Plant garlic sold specifically for planting; supermarket garlic may be treated to inhibit growing. Plant individual cloves about 3″ deep, pointed ends up, and mulch.
- When potted annuals are finished, dump the soil from their pots into the compost bin. Re-using old soil may spread pests and diseases. Soak the pots in warm water to loosen dried soil and fertilizer salts. Allow them to dry thoroughly before storing.
- Do a soil test now, so any amendments you need will have time to blend with your native soil. Purchase a test kit, or contact your local extension service office to ask if they offer testing.