maple leaf in autumn

Autumn Tips the work and pleasures of the season

In my gardening region of the Midwest, there are two major times to work in the garden: spring and fall.

Not that there are less chores during the remaining two seasons! It is rather a matter of success rate and efficiently expended effort.

Our summers with hot, muggy weather, dry ground, blazing sun, and desiccating winds tax the plants and the planter (or planter person?) And everyone in temperate zones knows about winter challenges.

Best Gardening Time

My garden is located in sort of an odd climate region of Ohio, which explains the prairie environment rather than the woodland in the majority of our state. We seem to have less rain, especially in the late summer. But, basically, the same rules apply: planting is best in the two little windows March through mid-May and Mid-September-October. With some effort from the gardener, or a gambling streak, one can chance summer and early winter (see the entry below: “Compost= Black Gold”).

 For autumn, there are chores of planting bulbs, making compost, dividing perennials, and (if you’re smart) digging new beds and tilling for next season.

Moving plants to a new location should be done before October, I think. Mainly, because without dependable snow cover (which central Ohio never has) the plants should have a chance to put down roots in the ideal October weather.

Late August and early September are very dry and limit success, unless you diligently water to keep the new plants growing well.

A general rule for new plants and starts is the importance of keeping them moist. You can plant most anything at any time if you are willing to keep the soil moist. garden harvestThis is the difficulty for those of us with too many irons in the fire: we often, despite our good intentions forget that special little plant during a brief dry spell. Guaranteed disappointment, even if it revives.

Late August through September are the days for planting Madonna lilies, dividing irises, and moving peonies. Harvesting vegetables keeps you busy, if you planted late crops. The weather is sure death to any weeds you manage to disrupt and disable. Ha! Take that, you scurvy weed!

The late September-October period is excellent for reworking the perennial beds, planting all those beautiful bulbs, and for all shrubs and trees. In the city I might chance planting roses, but everyone is much better holding those off for spring.

The great deal of vegetable matter from trees and gardens provides a supply for the compost pile. If nothing else, make a trench in your vegetable garden, fill it, add some fertilizer, cover with soil. You would not believe how good this makes the soil after a time.

Chopping the leaves up speeds the decay time, and the fertilizer helps the good bacteria to do its work. Organic in the true sense of the word.

If you have flower beds that need to be edged, this is the ideal time for that job, any garden construction work, in fact. The soil is workable and the weather stays clear and pleasant, much better than the muddy spring conditions. Think ahead to make everything ready for the spring planting: using the open window of spring for planting and dividing because the earth is in all readiness from your diligence in the fall.

Gingko Tree in Autumn

Compost=Black Gold

fallen leavesRaking leaves: a typical task which yields composted “leaf mold”.Making compost is easy. It is the solution for several needs.Everyone has garden refuse, fallen leaves, grass clippings, etc. And all gardens benefit from added humus. The compost pile is a simple way to take care of both.Whether using your own system or a purchased one, a few helpful facts are: use un-diseased vegetable matter; layer soil, softer vegetation and bulkier type with additions of fertilizer.

Turning it, and keeping it moist, speeds the process, but is not necessary for rich compost to add to plantings and mulch favored plants. A whole pile of info on Composting


Garden Chores for Fall

For a garden calendar for the fall months see Month by Month Garden Calendar

Over the years I’ve compiled a number of Chore reminder posts. These usually follow the same drill each year, occasionally interrupted by an unusual weather pattern, but thankfully there is a rhythm to the seasons.

If you would like an idea of how the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois usually progress in the fall, these posts are helpful. I am sure that Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, and probably Pennsylvania, New York, and Missouri are similar.

Check your hardiness zones for your frost dates, although those won’t highly impact the types of chores that are followed at this time of year.

September 2012

September 2013

October 2012

October 2013

November 2012

Intense color is part of the season There are a few exceptions to the “fall is better” idea. Some trees, such as magnolias, are planted in the spring. Bare root roses are better planted in early spring, as well. Whatever is planted, a cover of mulch or other protection should guard against both drying winds and frost heaving.
Pyracantha berries

Quicklist: hints and tips

  • fallen leaves make good compost
  • the mower chops leaves and gives the grass a last trimming
  • early fall is best for planting many perennials, and all spring-blooming bulbs
  • trees, shrubs, and bulbs can be planted as long as the soil is unfrozen
  • cultivate the soil and mulch for winter
  • dig and store any tender summer bulbs: dahlias, caladium,etc.

Viburnum berries

Shrubs for birds

Perennial Color

Garden mums and asters are anchor plants for the fall garden. They will carry the garden through to winter with rich colors of purples, maroon, pinks, gold, and white.

Top Ten Perennial ChoicesPlant for Fall Color

Ten Autumn Garden Features |

More of the Season:

A selection of pages on the web