I bet I know what you were thinking when you read the title of this post – “Why are you talking about fall weather when most of us are still seeing 95+ temperatures?” Well, rightly so, it is a tiny bit premature – but then again it is never too soon to plan as a gardener, is it? In fact, during winter months we gardeners spend most of our time dreaming of the first sign of spring!
Well, on with the topic . . .
Actually, due to the extreme temps we have had this summer, you may indeed have more tidying up and prep to do than usual this year to bring your beds up to par for fall. Below are a few tips I hope will prepare you for a more beautiful and bountiful autumn.
Trim Dried and Leggy Plants:
If you are fortunate, most of your perennials and some of your annuals are still hanging in there. However, they may have stopped blooming and/or have grown leggy during the summer season. Give them a good trim all over, dead-heading spent blooms if any. Even if they don’t come back in full force they will at least look nice and tidy for the coming cooler season.
Same goes for your leggy tomato and pepper plants these days. Don’t be afraid to top them off. Chances are, if you do, you might see a few more red tomatoes and green peppers before the first frost.
Fill in Bare Spots & Spent Pots with New Plants:
Personally, I have a lot of bare spaces that need to be filled in since quite a few of my summer annuals bit the dust. If you do too, fill in those spots with new, cooler-weather blooming plants such as petunias, snapdragons, and dianthus, or, try placing a few containers of ornamentals in the area. Chrysanthemums and coleus would be nice potted alternatives about now. In fact, I replaced a pot of very dry Mexican feather grass with burnt-orange budding mums just this weekend. Instant patio decor transition for the fall season!
Unfortunately, the squash and cucumbers in my vegetable bed didn’t survive this summer either. If you are in a warm climate you can still give these quick maturing cucurbits a try from seedlings. Larger cucurbits such as watermelon, pumpkin and cantaloupe will not mature prior to frost, so I would be cautious about planting them now.
Leafy and root crops such as lettuce, cabbage, brussels sprouts, garlic, green onion and carrots can also be sown in early September for a fall harvest.
Weed Elimination and Control:
Unfortunately, since the temps were quite unbearable for leisurely puttering around in our yards this summer, most of us didn’t get outside as often as we would have liked to perform general garden maintenance. Thus, we probably have a few more weeds and errant grasses that have invaded our flower and vegetable bed spaces as a result.
If you have only a few weeds, the best way to eliminate them is to simply pull them up. The easiest time to do this by hand is the day after a good rain or sprinkling – when the soil is damp. You can easily manage pulling weeds by utilizing a 3-prong hand weeder or a long-handled diamond hoe. You may also simply use a screwdriver if you do not have the recommended tools handy.
An organic method of killing a few to moderate amount of weeds is to spray them with 10% grain alcohol vinegar. Some folks recommend adding a little orange oil and/or horticultural soap to the vinegar solution to help it adhere to the weeds. I have used this method often and it works very quickly – usually within a day or two. Just be sure to use a hand sprayer that allows you to pinpoint the weeds you wish to kill and avoid spraying on very windy days as vinegar will eradicate your good plants too!
If a bunch of grass and weeds have invaded your garden beds, you may need to solarize the space. This method will take 6 – 8 weeks so you will have to forego planting anything for a while. Simply place clear plastic over the grassy area and weigh the edges down with rocks, pebbles or otherwise. The sun will literally bake the plants and a bonus with this method is the sun’s heat will also rid the soil of potential unwanted insects as well. Two-for-one!
To control winter weeds, be sure to heavily mulch your existing beds that are in good shape. This will not only help to prevent weeds from sprouting, but will serve as a “blanket” for those perennials you hope to overwinter. Another two-for-one tip!
Thanks for indulging me as I dream of the cool mornings and crisp evenings of fall. It’ll be here to stay in no time, so hopefully the above tips will come in handy the next few weekends!
Until next time,