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Fall is a New Beginning

Summer annual flowers in bloom
Summer annuals in bloom

I am a shoulder-season person; spring and fall are rejuvenating for me after the long endurance race through winter and summer, just like the garden. In September the garden comes alive with fresh tomatoes on the vine, fruit in the orchard and flowers in the beds. To keep the annual bedding plants blooming until frost, I lightly fertilize the summer annuals. Fertilizing shrubs at this time in the season is not recommended since doing so causes the plant to expend priceless energy into new growth that will be trimmed by frost in a few weeks.

Speaking of, trimming shrubs this time of year must be done lightly if at all. Spring blooming shrubs, such as azaleas and Japanese hydrangeas (blue and pink bloomers) form their flower buds during the summer months, hence pruning these plants now will reduce next year’s beautiful display. Pruning any shrub in September may initiate new growth that will be killed back by frost as well, again, expelling precious energy needlessly.  Instead prune only the random or errant growth and leave the more aggressive cuts for after the plant blooms next spring or, for summer flowering shrubs until March.

At Maymont there are large plantings of shrubs and perennials and during the season many tree seedlings find a hidden niche to germinate and grow, totally shrouded by the lush growth around them. As fall approaches, their hiding place is revealed by their colorful foliage, making the saplings easy to identify and carefully remove. Always try to ferret out these random tree and shrub “volunteers” along with all other weeds before the winter comes. This will reduce weeds from reseeding and makes the garden and landscape easier to work in next spring.

In the vegetable garden, these cooler temperatures are perfect for sowing lettuce/salad greens, radish, kale and collard seeds. Season extenders (watch our segment from Full Pocket Farm ) will protect the salad greens from the first frosts, while the kale and collards will provide greens for the table during most of the winter. Early to mid-October is the perfect time to plant hardneck garlic cloves for harvesting next year.  Cress is another green that should be sown then as well. Consider sowing red clover seed in the areas of the vegetable garden that will remain exposed during the winter. The clover will enrich the soil while protecting it from eroding winter winds and rain.

Fall is for planting. The cooler temperatures and increased soil moisture make it the perfect time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Be sure to mulch the planting well to buffer the soil from the erratic cold temperatures through the winter and to conserve soil moisture from the drying winds of the season. Always work a little compost into the soil when planting -- remember a little holds millions of soil microbes that will enrich the soil over time. Do not totally replace the soil with compost because the existing soil and the new soil will not interface, causing a situation akin to placing a pot in the ground. 

Mid-September is the best time to renovate your lawn in Central Virginia. For a quick green cover, mix in some annual rye grass seed with the perennial grass seed, then sow evenly over the prepared soil surface and lightly over with straw. Another trick is to over-seed a dormant Bermuda lawn with annual rye. The cool weather-loving annual rye will create a green lawn in the winter. The rye will die when the temperature rises in the late spring, which occurs about the same time the Bermuda grass begins to green up for the summer. This is also the time of year to talk with your local garden center about ordering specific plants you are seeking for spring delivery. Given enough notice, the nursery manager can add a specific plant to their order for delivery next year.

Don’t consider the growing season over, fall is a new beginning for renovation, planting, preparing for the winter garden and next spring.  

Happy Gardening!  Peggy

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