Happy autumn: three projects for your garden right now

    We’re a couple of days into the official season of fall. It’s a liminal time, still hot and muggy enough to feel like summer, but holding the promise of cooler-and darker-days to come.

    Autumn isn’t the most obvious time to do a lot in the garden besides rake leaves, but there are actually a number of projects that will provide big payoffs for a long time if they get tackled now. Here are a few for late September:

    Divide, multiply, and add

    It’s somewhat deceiving, because garden centers are starting to offer great specials on plants, and the deals will get even better over the next two months. This makes many gardeners suspicious that fall must be a bad time to add to the garden, but the opposite is true! Fall is the perfect time to plant trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials. Instead of trying to get established just as the hottest, driest season looms over us, plants installed this time of year have months and months to get settled before they will be asked to perform complicated tasks like leafing out and producing flowers.

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    You can also acquire more plants without spending any money. Established clumps of perennials that have already bloomed this year can be divided into smaller chunks and replanted. In the spring, you’ll be astonished at how each smaller clump will be almost the size of the original. One big hosta, heuchera, fern, phlox, or daylily (to name but a very few) can become five or more new plants, easy.

    Renovate a lawn

    Sometimes a blank slate is a good thing. After staring out at a post-apocalyptic landscape all summer, last week it was time to seed my new lawn. It had finally been graded, the big stones taken away, and some topsoil spread on the compacted and abused dirt. Seeding it was easy. I mixed together grass seed and pelletized lawn fertilizer and broadcast it over the area, then covered it very lightly with a layer of salt hay. After just three days the baby blades are starting to appear, more visible every hour- I know this because I keep checking on them.

    It’s possible to put in a new lawn in the springtime, (heck, you could try it any time) but fall is way better. Grass seed germinates best when the air is cool but the ground is warm. There are seed mixtures for shade and for sun, depending on your conditions, and if you’re not sure what to buy you can get a mix formulated for both. If you coordinate seeding a lawn with the weather forecast, you can avoid watering, otherwise you’ll need to put the sprinkler on your new lawn every day for about 45 minutes until the grass is up.

    Renovating or overseeding a lawn is basically the same idea, although if you have a lot of weeds, they’ll need to come out before the grass seed goes down. More specific information on reseeding a lawn can be found in this bulletin from Penn State Extension. 

    Make a fall planter

    The petunias and impatiens planted in containers months ago still look great, so why rip them out already? It’s true that we won’t get a hard frost for another five or six weeks at the earliest. But at that point people are already unpacking their Christmas lights, and mums are moot.

    A good formula for attractive containers is to combine something tall and spiky, something trailing, and something flowering. I added another component, this ornamental kale sprayed with glitter, because I was sorely in need of a little sparkle.

    Nothing says pre-recession like a container filled with expensive, ephemeral annuals. It’s easy to do these containers much more cheaply by reusing plants from older containers (in this case the trailing vinca vine) and by adding some perennials that can stay in the pot year round, like the grass. Generally, you can give containers gardens a facelift by replacing one or two plants while leaving the rest intact.

    If you still feel like you need a little help figuring out what to tackle in your yard this fall, stay tuned. NewsWorks is working on a fun project that could involve you and your garden! More details will be forthcoming very soon.

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