The flower garden slows after frost kills back foliage and freezes knock down tender plantings, but flower gardeners find there are still a few seasonal chores to be done in the fall season.
Flower garden to do lists should include the following steps to get the flower garden ready for winter and prepare ahead for spring.
Dig and Store Tender Bulbs, Corms, Tubers and Rhizomes
The so called summer bulbs are tender which means they will not survive cold climate winters outdoors. You can let them freeze to death during the winter and replace them in the spring. Or, to save them to enjoy next year, dig and store them indoors. For example:
Cannas (how to dig and store canna roots or rhizomes)
Dahlias (fall care and storage of dahlia tubers)
Gladiolus (how to dig up and save gladioli corms or bulbs)
Cut Back Perennials
Trim off frost killed stems and foliage. Leave evergreen basal rosettes and foliage intact. (What’s an annual, what’s a perennial?)
Leave Seeds as Natural Bird Feeder
Many birds appreciate the seedy winter snack inside ornamental dried and faded flowers such as coneflower and black eyed Susan. The plants are easy to tidy away in the spring when they are weather beaten, soft and soggy from months of snow and rain.
Pull Spent Annuals
Nothing looks as sad as dead annuals left over the winter. Pull them up and toss them in the compost pile. Cover the soil with mulch to prevent erosion during the winter.
Fall Weed Control
Cool season annual weeds such as chickweed germinate and grow like crazy during the cool months of fall. Hoe them off to prevent seeding and smother with mulch. If problems are severe, you might resort to using a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent them from germinating. Read and follow the label directions.
Top Up Flower Bed Mulch Before Winter
Rodents love to nestle in mulch where its fluffy insulation keeps them warm and toasty all winter. Wait until after several hard freezes have sent the little rodents off to find their winter homes, and then top up your mulch. In most areas, a three inch deep layer is adequate. In severe climates, you may need to spread it as thick as six inches. Do not cover the plants, place the mulch around them. Snow is the perfect insulator. In mid winter, after the ground is frozen, if there is no snow then you might lay evergreen boughs over top of the plants as well. (More Mulching Tips)
Wait Until Late Fall to Protect Roses for Winter
In severe winter areas, hybrid tea roses, tree roses and climbing roses will need special winter protection. Wait until late fall to do that, for now allow the roses to slow their growth naturally in response to the changing season.
Save Fall Leaves for Compost, Soil Amendment, or Mulch
Autumn beauty is everywhere in the leaves of deciduous trees falling all around you. Don’t let this seasonal bounty go to waste. Chop the leaves in a chipper/shredder, run over them with your lawn mower, or suck them up with a leaf vacuum and crush them. Stockpile these carbon-intensive leaves to mix with green, nitrogen rich material next summer. Or, with time the leaves alone will break down to yield leaf mold, a superb organic soil amendment for flower beds. Or, use them now as mulch.
Get on Gardening Catalog Mailing Lists
Send in the Information Request cards from magazines, visit seed supplier and nursery web sites and register. If you sign up for several catalog mailing lists, you’ll likely receive ten times that many by January. Study up and get ready to shop this winter!
Finish Planting Spring Bulbs
You can plant spring bulbs (crocus, daffodils, etc.) up until the ground freezes, but they do better with a little time to root before then.
Most Important Gardening Tip for Fall: Enjoy the Fall Flower Garden!
Many perennials show exceptional fall color. The fall flowers — those last, fleeting flowers of the season — are in many ways the most precious of the gardening year. Take a minute from your fall chores and seasonal garden maintenance and clean up to savor the special colors and scents of the autumn flower garden.