Tune up Your Garden this Fall

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Preparing your garden for fall doesn't mean packing up and moving everything indoors. There is still plenty to do and more than enough time left to do it. In fact, with the summer heat behind us, gardening needn't be limited to the early mornings and late evenings. Let us show you how to tune up your garden for the fall and prepare for the winter ahead.

Upkeep and Maintenance

Before we get to the fun stuff, there is some basic maintenance you should cover before the air turns crisp.

  • Remove any plants that are long past their prime. It's sad, especially since you probably nursed it since was a seedling, but hey, you can grow something else in its place! Keeping around plants that have already gone to seed only strips the soil of its nutrients, so give them the heave-ho.
  • Pull any weeds and remove fallen debris.
  • Invigorate your soil by turning it. A roto-tiller comes in especially handy here. Add fertilizer and/or compost to enrich the soil for next season or your upcoming fall harvest.
  • Mow the lawn until the grass stops growing.
  • Fertilize all of your existing plants.

Plant Spring Bulbs

This autumn, make it a point to plant bulbs for the spring. No one can resist a bunch of beautiful tulips, so why not grow your own? Where and when you plant your bulbs depends on your climate and the flower type, so you will have to do a little research. Generally speaking, hyacinths, tulips, crocus and daffodil are among the bulbs available in the fall and they should be planted before the beginning of November.

When choosing bulbs, squeeze them firmly to make sure there aren't any soft spots, rot or disease. Not only will a diseased bulb not grow, it can likely pass on whatever it has to the other plants in the garden. Check to make sure the color of the bulb looks healthy, and if you spot anything that resembles sawdust on the bulb, toss it. The bulb has more than likely been bored into by an insect.

Jane Tip: If you live in a climate without snow, you will need to water your bulbs every so often to keep them from drying out.

If you don't have any room for a garden, take heart. Bulbs can be grown in pots and indoors.

Start a Vegetable Garden

Even if you missed the spring harvest, there are several vegetables that can be planted in the fall. Just a few of the vegetables to consider growing this time of year are broccoli, English peas, carrots and spinach. It's best to plant while it is still quite warm and in a place where the plants will receive a lot of light. You can start your veggies garden using seeds or from plant trays; the choice is yours.

Caring for your new plants comes down to what you have chosen to grow, though common sense dictates they will all need a combination of water, air and sunshine. Before you head to the nursery, do some research as to what will be easiest to maintain given your space and schedule. Who knows, maybe you will serve home-grown potatoes this year for Thanksgiving!

Plant a Fruit Tree

If growing veggies isn't your thing, why not try your green thumb on a fruit tree? Fall and spring are the ideal times to plant them. Let your palate dictate what kind of fruit tree you want, but also don't forget to consider your climate. There is a reason why the best apples come from Washington and Georgia is known for its peaches.

Start with two dwarf trees of different kinds, so they are able to cross-pollinate. For example, buy one Gala tree and one Macintosh. If one of your trees doesn't make it, the other one will have a better chance of survival.

Once they are planted, keep them well-watered and fertilize twice a year. If you are patient enough, pinch back the first-year's flowers when they appear. This will give your trees a chance to establish themselves a little more before bearing fruit.

Your fruit will grow more delicious by the year and will last for generations. Keeping the tree well-pruned and watered and you will get bigger fruit. Imagine how proud will you feel when you bake an apple pie made with the fruit you grew and picked yourself?

Start a Compost

With everyone going organic, why not start your own compost pile? Name another scenario where you can improve your garden, save the earth and save money on fertilizer! With all the dead clippings from your summer garden, fall is a great time to start one.

An organic compost pile will do wonders for your garden; you'll begin to wonder why you didn't start your own years ago. Compost keeps your plants healthy, and replenishes nutrients to damaged soil.

Starting a compost pile begins with what to put it in. Bins or boxes are made especially for compost, but you can also just start a pile on the ground. The pile makes it easier for you to mix up the "ingredients" of your compost pile, but the box will help with moisture and temperature control, plus it is portable.

Compost is achieved by creating layers of used material which nature eventually breaks down to produce a rich soil. Layer number one should consist of those dead plant clippings (hay, grass, leaves, fruit, branches, etc) we mentioned earlier. The key is to have good circulation at the bottom of your bin or pile, so don't pile the clippings on too thick, about ¼ - ½ inch should suffice.

The next layers should alternate between 'brown' and 'green' materials. Brown materials, which provide carbon to your pile, consist of shredded newspaper, wood chips, cardboard and corn cobs. Nitrogen-heavy 'green' elements include weeds, food scraps, (but not meat), coffee grounds, seaweed and grass clippings. Each layer should be about 2 inches thick, and a thin layer of manure can be placed between green and brown layers. Try to break down any material before adding it to your compost pile; it will decompose faster!

Jane Tip: Do not add any clippings sprayed with pesticides in your compost. Also avoid dog and cat droppings as they can be toxic to many plants and trees.

Gardening can be a lot of fun and when done well, can add not only a fresh appearance to any outdoor area, but can provide your dinner table with fresh homegrown fruits and vegetables. With just a little year round maintenance, you'll soon see that gardening will become less of a chore and more of a true joy.

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