Garden Tasks For the Fall

San Antonio Express News
Gardening, ETC.
Sunday, October 24, 2004

By Lynn Rawe

Most people believe that the fall season is cause for slowing down in the garden. Not true! Fall in San Antonio, with its cooler temps and usually sunny skies, is an excellent time to not only rake leaves, but to plant new selections, divide and transplant perennials, re-arrange, prepare the soil in new beds, improve the soil in existing beds, prune, feed, do maintenance on your tools-there are many tasks that need to be done now!

Avid gardeners love to share plants and seeds with other gardeners. This is the time of year to collect seed. There are a few important steps to take into consideration when collecting and storing seed. Never collect seeds from plants that are not yours without permission. Seeds should be dried, then placed in containers or bags that are properly labeled. Old prescription bottles or film canisters work great for seed storage. Be sure the name of the plant and the date of collection is easy to read on the storage unit. Seeds are best stored in a cool, dry place.

Fall is the time to shop for bulbs. The earlier you shop, the better the selection. Look at catalogs, shop the internet or your local garden center. Plan ahead and plant according to heights and colors of your selected favorites.

Color is very important during the fall and winter months in the garden. Pansies are the most popular flower from now until April. There are new pansies on the market that will brighten up your dull fall garden. Some pansies have faces and new ones have blended pastel colors. Bright colors like yellow and red are best viewed from a distance. Blues are best viewed up close. However, if there are deer in your area, forget about the pansies. Pansies are candy to deer.

Other great annuals that provide color in the fall garden are pinks, dianthus, flowering cabbage and kale, violas and snapdragons. Pinks and dianthus provide a wonderful range on pink, red, and white color. Flowering cabbage and kale add green and purple color plus a wide leaf that provides a nice textural contrast to gardens. Violas, with their delicate pink and purple flowers, are an old fashioned flower that continues to be popular especially in “cottage” gardens. Snapdragons provide a wide range of color including peach, pink, red, yellow, white and purple. And the good news…snapdragons are deer resistant.

Some flowers can be direct seeded. Larkspurs, poppies and other wildflowers should be planted now. Don’t wait any longer! The pastel colors of pink, blue, lavender and white larkspurs add height and an airy texture to the garden. Depending on temps, larkspurs will usually sprout in mid January to February and bloom throughout May. In contrast, tall poppies liven up the garden area with large vivid red or yellow flowers in the spring.

You can divide your perennials during October. Daylilies, columbine, iris, phlox, dianthus, daisies and coneflowers can be divided and transplanted, or shared with others.

The fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. It gives plants time to establish roots during the winter before the heat of summer. Shop nurseries and garden centers for sales.

This summer we experienced ample rain and humidity which has left many plants with fungus problems, so be fastidious in keeping leaves cleaned up. Rake up any diseased leaves and dispose of them to help prevent any further spreading of the disease. Leaves on the lawn can be mowed along with grass clippings and added to your compost for later soil conditioning.

Speaking of soil conditioning, as you divide old plants, or plant new editions to your garden, prepare your soil beds with generous amounts of compost and organic matter. Finish with 3-4 inches of your favorite mulch. Not only will mulch help to keep your beds weed free and more attractive, but will supply a blanket of warmth once the cold weather sets in.

Applying a winterizer (fertilizer) to your lawn once the weather cools, will help your lawn to increase it’s cold hardiness. Those who prefer the organic route can “top dress” with compost once the grass is dormant. Apply ¼ to ½ inch of compost over the lawn to improve soil health.

Fall is a great time for vegetable gardening. Vegetables can be transplanted or seeded. Swiss chard, collards, spinach, lettuce, mustard, radishes and turnips are some of your fall vegetable choices as we move into cooler weather.

Don’t be alarmed with needles dropping from evergreens such as junipers, pines or arborvitae. This is normal this time of year. Try using the needles as mulch around your flower beds.

Take a little extra time to clean and oil your tools after you use them. Clean tools will last longer. When a freeze is expected, be sure to drain all the water from your hoses to prevent damage.

If you have any questions that might make your gardening tasks easier, please contact our office at (210) 467-6575, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and ask for the Homeowner Hotline.

This article was written by Lynn Rawe, County Agent-Horticulture, with Texas Cooperative Extension in Bexar County.

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