Fall into spring: How to prepare your garden for next year

Fall into spring: How to prepare your garden for next year
Photo/Kim Davis

By Kim Davis | kturpindavis@aol.com

“It was a beautiful bright autumn day, with air like cider and a sky so blue you could drown in it.” – Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander

Who has not reveled in the visceral beauty of a crisp fall day? With jewel tone leaves set against the bright blue sky, fall is a welcome relief from summer’s stifling heat. This interlude offers the perfect time to take a discerning look at Mother Nature’s impact on our gardens throughout the past six months. What survived and what did not? What steps might we consider making our gardens more appealing for spring? It is beneficial to take a walk around our gardens and assess their needs.

This will likely include repairing summer damage to our lawns, relocating plants that are not thriving in their current location, replacing plants that are on the wane and to consider adding an array of new bulbs to create that “wow” factor in the spring. Here are some ways to prepare your garden for springtime.

A timely item on the fall checklist is lawn care. The next two months are critical to refreshing and nourishing lawns in the aftermath of summer’s extreme heat. Soil compaction and heat stress cause most of the thin, brown grass we see at this time of year. Northern Virginia soil contains a lot of clay and very little sand, not ideal for growing a beautiful green lawn. Add to that contributing factors such as rainfall or lack thereof, irrigation issues and weather fluctuations, and you have a recipe for a bedraggled lawn by summer’s end.

To position your lawn to produce a beautiful green carpet next spring, most specialists recommend a protocol that consists of aerating, reseeding, replenishing soil nutrients and applying organic weed removal treatment in the fall, prior to the first freeze. This process helps cultivate deeper root growth, increase the percentage of seed germination, enhance water absorption and reduce runoff, boost microbial soil biodiversity, enrich the emerald green hue, thicken the turf and assist in crowding out weeds.

Highly rated professional lawn care companies are a viable option if you do not have time to do it yourself. If you take this route, a 2021 Consumer Reports article recommends choosing a professional that shows an interest in improving the health of your soil rather than promoting a specific product and one that uses a blend of turf-grass seeds. Check out company ratings and make sure the representative is concerned about the unique ecology of your yard, rather than a quick in-and-out service call.

Homeowners preferring a DIY option can improve lawns by following the steps outlined above. Aerating machines are available to rent through landscaping equipment rental companies. Do a little homework on the type of fertilizer and grass seed that suits your individual lawn needs. Determining light and shade requirements, weather conditions in our USDA Plant Zone (7b) and water needs will help steer you in the right direction. You can also consult with a lawn specialist at a plant center. With climate change and environmental issues, we are now understanding the necessity to be open to experimentation, change and making peace with a lawn that is just short of perfection. After all, the bees and the rabbits love clover.

Fall is a good time to envision your garden next spring. Consider adding some pizazz with an array of cold-hardy bulbs like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. They should be planted soon, as they require cold temperatures to stimulate flowering. Daffodils are a perennial favorite of almost everyone. They produce flowers for years, even decades, animals rarely eat them, and they come in a broad variety of colors, sizes and shapes. In general, fall bulbs should be planted when the temperature dips below 60 degrees and one month prior to the first frost, which is typically around mid to late November. Some bulbs need 16 to 18 weeks of cold temperatures to produce blooms for the spring or summer.

Cool season flowers such as anemone and ranunculus should also be planted in the fall for spring blooming. Dahlias are best planted in late April and May after the chance of frost has passed. They will produce blooms from June into October.

Autumn is also the time to prep perennial gardens by removing weeds, fertilizing to boost plant roots before winter, adding mulch to keep tender roots warm throughout the winter and removing diseased plants. In addition, many perennials may be divided at this time including coneflowers, peonies, iris, hostas, liriope and black-eyed susans. The University of Minnesota Extension Service provides a thorough spreadsheet on its website detailing plant divisions at https:// docs.google.com/spread sheets/d/1Sv07afJ8jz9h_CGA_ NNdjuFcaV83BUXtT2uIsYUs NdI/edit#gid=1250055917.

By using best practices when tending our gardens, we can become stewards of the health of Virginia’s waterways, pollinators and animals, leaving our patch of earth a little better. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has an excellent online year-round guide to yard care at https://www.dcr.virginia. gov/soil-and-water/document/ yardcare.pdf. The guide includes a wealth of information on regional topics including preferred grasses for our area, soil enhancements and testing, erosion control, fertilizers, plant nutrition and more.

With a little planning and effort, your garden will provide bountiful rewards. While you work, strap on your earbuds and tune into your favorite radio app to listen to the songs of autumn. Try a playlist that includes Neil Diamond’s “Harvest Moon,” “Leaves That Are Green” by Simon & Garfunkel, “Autumn Leaves” by Eric Clapton or Ed Sheeran, “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & the Papas, “Autumn Almanac” by The Kinks, “Moondance” by Van Morrison, “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day and “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

So, get out in your gardens and make something beautiful!