When people think of that special time of year to plant a vegetable garden or fill the flowerbeds with color, the season of spring is usually what comes to mind. However, fall has its very own aspects that make it an ideal time to do exactly what gardeners love to do during the spring. A person does not have to endure a winter season of bare branches, brown turf, and flowerbeds of stubble.
As temperatures cool after the excessive heat of late summer, gardeners and plants alike begin to breathe a sigh of relief. As the soil warms it’s best to encourage roots deeper into the soil so as to be protected if the ground freezes. This allows plants that survive the winter to get a head start on growth when the ground begins to warm in the spring.
The big question about a fall garden is what to plant. Winter turfgrass varieties are a great choice. Fall is also the time to put bulbs in the ground so they can establish and bloom next spring. Perennials, shrubs and trees can all be planted in the fall.
There are also certain advantages to planting during fall. Usually there are more good weather days for working outside. Spring weather can be a bit unpredictable with showers and storms interrupting productive days of grubbing around in the earth. Also, because it typically is not a prime season for nurseries, many have great sales going on so the fall gardener can usually get more bang for their buck. One more advantage of gardening in autumn is that, in most cases, destructive insects and certain plant diseases are less active. Unlike spring and summer gardens, fall gardens don’t need fertilizer so this is a pocketbook and time investment bonus.
The time window for planting a fall garden is short. Garden crops should be sown early in August. Work in the flower beds should begin in early September and be completed by mid to late October. As you create your garden plan and put together a shopping list, these are some of the best choices for fall that I would consider:
Bulbs for spring blooms: daffodil, grape hyacinth, allium, English bluebell, violets, snowdrop.
Vegetables: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, kohlrabi, kale, radishes, lettuce varieties, Swiss chard and spinach, cilantro, cucumber, peas, scallions, squash, garlic.
Fall color: pansy, hosta, peony, iris, aster, day lily, toad lily, Russian sage, sedum, crocus, anise hyssop
Lawn, trees and shrubs: winter turfgrass varieties such as winter rye, fescue or bluegrass; trees to plant to produce colorful fall foliage are red maple, blooming wisteria, sugar maple, gingko, red tip dogwood; shrubs that really brighten things up in the fall are smokebush, witch hazel, pomegranate, blueberries.
If you want to extend the life of vegetable crops, try container gardening on a protected patio or erect cold frames over crop beds on the ground. I find I enjoy my vegetables even more when I harvest after the first frost. I feel such a smug sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, as if I had just cheated Mother Nature.