Fall Gardening Duties for the Sustainable Garden

 Add Nutrients, Keep Watering, Plant Perennials & Bulbs, Divide, Transplant & Conquer!

Add Compost when the Soils are Dry:

Empty your compost bin if your compost is ready, or add other compost on the top of your garden, between 1″ – 4″ thick. Be careful not to bury perennials. Leave the compost on top of the soil, or, turn it into the soils to improve soil structure and nutrient value. Never till wet soils, as this will encourage compaction. For a more robust soil amendment procedure, consider the “double-digging” method. This more intensive method helps to alleviate soil compaction. For more specifics on this method, visit: http://communitycrops.org/education/double-digging/.

Continue Watering your Gardens and Landscape:

Water your plants and gardens until right before the ground freezes, which is typically toward the end of November or early December in this region. It is especially important to water any new plant installations, transplanted plants, any Fall bulb installations, and all the evergreens.

Plant Perennials until mid-October:

This is a good time of year to see where additional plantings will make the most sense in the landscape. New plants will take root quickly in the warmer soils of Fall, and many plants are on sale. It is usually safe to plant until October 15, and even a little later if the temps remain favorable.

Plant Fall Bulbs for Spring Blooms: 

The little time it takes to plant Fall bulbs will pay off in the Spring. Tulips make a great cut flower, and will typically stay in bloom from mid-April through late May. Be sure to plant bulbs at a depth twice of its height. Place bone meal or other bulb food at the bottom of the hole. Position the bulb pointy side up. (If you’re unsure which side is “up”, place the bulb on its side, and it will find its way to the surface.) For big impact, mass plantings of at least 50 bulbs from the same variety will provide a uniform appearance in the Spring. Plant 10 bulbs in a hole for smaller groupings. Cover the hole with chicken wire, or sprinkle cayenne pepper on top of the soil to discourage the squirrels.

High visibility areas are great for flowering bulb placement. Choose areas along an entryway, or areas that can be viewed from a window. Plant bulbs between perennials for a seasonal color palette change. Or consider planting hyacinth behind cool season viola pansies, for example, for a dramatic effect. Established bulbs will flourish with a Fall top dressing of fertilizer to help encourage the stems to shoot to the surface in the Spring.

Divide and Transplant:

Thin, divide and transplant perennials now, since you can see how the plants relate to each other in the garden. A good guideline for when to transplant, is for any plant blooming in the Spring, transplant it in the Fall. Fall-blooming plants are best transplanted in the Spring. It is usually a matter of aesthetic choice whether a plant gets transplanted, versus for a horticultural benefit.


When a shrub or tree has lost its leaves for the season, it is usually safe to prune it. Trees that benefit from pruning now include Ash, Aspen, Burch, Catalpa, Poplar and Willow. A guideline for pruning evergreens: wait until you might use their branches for winter decor.

Remove Annuals from Gardens and Containers, and Re-use Tubers, Tropical and House Plants:

Once the plants begin to decline, remove them (by hand or with a trowel). If there is no disease present in the root system, a sustainable approach is to leave the root system and turn it back into the soils, which helps to replenish soil nutrients. Large root masses in containers can be left in to provide structure to the container for Fall or Wintergreen plantings. Recycle potting soil into your garden beds. Most containers should have new potting soil every two years.

Tubers from Elephant Ear, Canna and Dahlia plants can be re-used next season. Wash off the soil, label the variety, and place them in a crate of peat moss. They prefer a dark, 40 – 50 degree environment over the winter, similar to a root cellar. Water once a month, and start them in a sunny window in March or April until they can be safely replanted again once the Spring frost has passed.

Banana trees, Australian tree ferns and many succulents will go dormant in a similarly cool location. With the exception of the succulents, cut back the foliage, leaving the main stem. Water sparingly monthly, and they may come back bigger and better for next season.

Blooming tropical plants like Hibiscus, Oleander or Bougainvillea can be overwintered by placing them in a sunny window. Be sure to hose them off well first to remove any insects before bringing them indoors. They can be pruned back in the winter to encourage new growth in the Spring.  Water with a diluted fertilizer. Other houseplant varieties like Philodendron, Palm, Cordyline or Ivy will survive by a sunny window in the winter, as well.

These approaches will not only reduce the need to purchase expensive plants again next season, but will also reduce the debris sent to compost sites and landfills in our community!

For more information, contact Heidi’s Lifestyle Gardens and Heidi’s GrowHaus: 763-420-2909.