Signs of autumn are all around. In some parts of the country, colorful leaves are spinning to the ground, summer flowers have faded, and there’s a noticeable nip in the air. Fall can be a lovely time of year, still warm enough to linger outdoors, but cool enough to gather around a glowing fire pit in the evenings. Plan ahead, and you can enjoy your patio for three seasons: spring, summer and fall.
Plant Autumn Edibles
Don’t give up on your patio containers because the temps are dropping. Sow seeds of lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, arugula, beets and radishes for fresh salads and side dishes from these fast-growing veggies.
Some greens, such as turnips and collards, don’t mind a light frost and actually taste sweeter when cold weather turns the starch in their leaves into sugars.
If you’re short on patio space, grow “up” by planting nutritious greens like kale in hanging baskets.
Tuck hardy herbs like mint, parsley, thyme, chives and cilantro into pots or window boxes. They also make good companions for pots of pretty pansies and violas. Move tender herbs, like basil, indoors to a windowsill before the first frost.
You can also plant garlic in autumn. For best results, use a large container. If you live where the winters are mild, choose a softneck variety like ‘Silver White’ or ‘Inchelium Red.’ If your winters are cold, grow a hardneck like ‘Purple Stripe.’ Be sure to use a container that won’t crack in freezing weather.
Start the garlic before November, separating the cloves and burying them 3 inches apart, pointed ends up, in a potting mix with slow-release fertilizer. Keep them watered and expect a harvest by the middle of next summer. The garlic is ready when the scapes — the tall, green shoots that appear in spring — start to curl, and the foliage turns yellow.
After you carefully dig up the bulbs, brush off the dirt and let them cure, or air dry, for three to four weeks in a room with good air circulation. Cut off the tops, roots, and papery outer skins after the bulbs dry. Leave on the inner skins until you’re ready to use the garlic.
Feed Wild Birds
You’re not the only one who enjoys using your patio when the weather cools. As insect populations decrease, and flowers stop producing seeds, many birds will appreciate stopping by your garden to dine.
Welcome them with feeders stocked with bird seed. Many birds love black oil sunflower seeds, while specialty seeds like thistle, also known as Nyjer seed, will attract goldfinches, pine siskins, and other small birds. (Learn more about bird seed here.) Keep a bird bath filled with fresh, clean water so they can drink and bathe.
Prep Your Patio For Entertaining
Take advantage of mild weather to grill steaks or burgers on your patio. If you have a gas grill, disconnect the gas before cleaning it, and scrape burnt foods off the grate with a wire brush. Use an old cloth or paper towels for a final wipe-down. Season the grate with a light coat of vegetable oil before using it again, to prevent foods from sticking.
For a casual party, pull up some chairs and keep warm on your patio (you can build a fire pit or use a pre-constructed model or kit). Roast a few marshmallows and break out some chocolate bars and graham crackers for s’mores, and put a sweet finish on a cool evening.