By Kim Davis | [email protected]
“It was a beautiful, bright fall day, with air like cider and a sky so blue you could drown in it.” – Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander
Who hasn’t reveled in the visceral beauty of a crisp fall day? With jewel-toned leaves against bright blue skies, fall is a welcome relief from the sweltering heat of summer. This interlude offers the perfect time to take a discerning look at Mother Nature’s impact on our gardens over the past six months. What survived and what did not? What steps could we consider to make our gardens more attractive for spring? It is beneficial to take a walk through our gardens and assess your needs.
This will likely include repairing summer damage to our gardens, relocating plants that are not thriving in their current location, replacing plants that are declining, and possibly adding a variety of new light bulbs to create that “wow” factor in the spring. Here are some ways to get your garden ready for spring.
A timely item on the fall checklist is lawn care. The next two months are essential to cool and nourish the lawn after the extreme heat of summer. Soil compaction and heat stress cause most of the thin, brown grass we see this time of year. Northern Virginia soil contains a lot of clay and very little sand, which is not ideal for growing a beautiful green lawn. Add to that contributing factors like rain or lack of it, irrigation issues, and weather fluctuations, and you have a recipe for a scruffy lawn at the end of summer.
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 an organic weed-killing treatment in the fall, before of the first frost. This process helps cultivate deeper root growth, increases seed germination percentage, improves water uptake and reduces runoff, increases soil microbial biodiversity, enriches emerald green hue, thickens turf, and helps eliminate the weeds.
Highly rated professional lawn care companies are a viable option if you don’t have time to do it yourself. If you go this route, a 2021 Consumer Reports article recommends choosing a professional who shows an interest in improving the health of your soil rather than promoting a specific product and one that uses a grass seed mix. Check out the company’s ratings and make sure the representative is concerned with the unique ecology of your yard, rather than a quick in-and-out service call.
Homeowners who prefer a DIY option can improve their lawn by following the steps outlined above. Aeration machines are available for rent through lawn equipment rental companies. Do some research on the type of fertilizer and lawn 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 point you in the right direction. You can also consult with a lawn specialist at a plant center. With climate change and environmental issues, we now understand the need to be open to experimentation, change and make peace with a lawn that is on the brink of perfection. After all, bees and rabbits love clovers.
Fall is a great time to envision your garden next spring. Consider adding a little pizzazz with a variety of cold-hardy bulbs like daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths. They should be planted early as they require cool temperatures to encourage flowering. Daffodils are a perennial favorite of almost everyone. They produce flowers for years, even decades, are rarely eaten by animals, and come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. In general, fall bulbs should be planted when the temperature drops below 60 degrees and a month before the first frost, which is usually mid to late November. Some bulbs need 16 to 18 weeks of cool temperatures to produce spring or summer flowers.
Cool-season flowers, such as anemone and buttercup, 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 flowers from June to October.
Fall is also the time to prepare perennial gardens by removing weeds, fertilizing to stimulate plant roots before winter, adding mulch to keep tender roots warm all winter, and removing diseased plants. Also, many perennials can be divided at this time, including echinacea, peonies, irises, hostas, liriope, and black-eyed susans. The University of Minnesota Extension Service provides a comprehensive spreadsheet on their website detailing plant spreads at https://docs.google.com/spread sheets/d/1Sv07afJ8jz9h_CGA_ NNdjuFcaV83BUXtT2uIsYUs NdI/edit#gid= 1250055917.
By using best practices when caring for our gardens, we can become stewards of the health of Virginia’s waterways, pollinators, and animals, leaving our piece of land a little better. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has an excellent year-round online 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 improvements and tests, erosion control, fertilizers, plant nutrition, and more.
With a little planning and effort, your garden will bring you bountiful rewards. While you work, put on your headphones and tune in to your favorite radio app to listen to fall tunes. Try a playlist that includes “Harvest Moon” by Neil Diamond, “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!