Image by Uwe Hermann
Although it may not feel like autumn just yet in most corners of the country, we know that we are right on the cusp of it. The classic signs of impending fall weather are everywhere: back-to-school commercials are dominating air time, farmers’ markets are chock full of beautiful late summer veggies, and clothing stores are filling their racks with scarves and boots instead of bathing suits and flip flops. Yes, fall is most certainly on its way, beginning with its unofficial start on Labor Day. And since Labor Day means an extra day off of work, this makes it an excellent time to spend a day in your garden, preparing it for cooler weather.
Your Official Labor Day Garden To-do List
Irrigate: As in the hot summer months, you will want to continue to irrigate your plants. Watering in the morning rather than at midday reduces evaporation and really allows you to reap the maximum benefit. As the weather starts to cool off, you can reduce the frequency of waterings accordingly.
Minimize Fall Pruning: Fall is when plants slow in growth, harden off and prepare themselves for winters ahead. When you cut woody plants, you run the risk of stimulating tender, new growth. Prompting a lot of fresh, tender growth during a time when growth should be hardening for winter, you run the risk of damaging that new growth (and thereby the entire plant) in a freeze. And many plants that bloom in winter and spring have already set up their flower buds. If you prune them in fall, odds are you’ll cut off most of the flowering buds. Learn more pruning tips from Robin Haglud, a Seattle-based garden mentor and writer.
Add compost: After a summer of supporting vigorous growth, your soil will need a little bit if TLC in order to replenish its nutrients. That means that this is a good time to add compost and mulch to all of your garden beds. If you still have large chunks that are breaking down in your compost heap, that’s okay. Just use an old piece of screen to sift out the broken down parts that are ready to use. The small, indistinguishable bits go into your garden, and the large chunks that still need to break down can go back in your heap.
Mulch on top: Mulch is an excellent natural protector for all of your plants, and this is a good time to add it to all of your gardens, as well as around the base of trees. Make sure to fluff up your mulch with a steel rake in order to let water penetrate deeply. And leave a little bit of room between your mulch and the base of the plant or tree; don’t mound it up like a volcano, as this will lead to plant stress. As my co-author states in Garden Rules, “only virgins should be sacrificed to volcanoes.”
Fill in your landscape: Labor Day is not too late to plant new things. In fact, it is a great time to plant fall crops such as green onions, potatoes, garlic, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. You can also plant flowers that give lovely seasonal color such as pansies, asters and mums.
Prepare your potted plants: It will very soon be too cold for all of your tropical plants to survive outside, so bring them indoors and let them be houseplants for the fall and winter. If you have potted perennials, this is a good time to give them a little trim and then transplant them into your garden. Potted herbs start to look a bit wild towards the end of the summer, so harvest what you can, and then either freeze or dry them.
Clean out your garage or storage shed: The end of summer is the perfect time to make sure your garden tools are clean and properly stored, and to clean any debris out of your storage areas. Check all of the expiration dates on products such as beneficial fungi. Many natural fertilizers and fungicides are very heat and cold sensitive, so they may not store well though fall and winter. If you have anything that will expire before next spring, dispose of it responsibly.
Have for fall tips to add to our to-do list? Submit a comment below.