Question: What should I be doing in the garden to get ready for fall?
Answer: Fall begins in early September for gardeners. Shortening days and cooler temperatures, especially at night, are signals to plants to change their growth patterns.
The weather changes mean plants are using less water. Plants irrigated daily can now be irrigated every other day. Sprinklers set to water every other day can now be changed to twice a week.
Lawn growth and fertilization
This is the time of year when lawns enlarge their root systems. They also make new tillers and rhizomes that thicken turf. Timely fertilization will enhance this growth. I used to wait until October to make a fall lawn fertilizer application. Now I prefer to apply at half the recommended rate in early September and apply the other half in late October. If you subscribe to a lawn fertilization service, they will make both applications for you. The October fertilization will keep your lawn green for several extra weeks in the late fall. I prefer a fall lawn fertilizer with at least 10% potassium, the last number in the formula. This gives the lawn extra resistance to the winter cold.
If you have broadleaf weeds in the lawn, use a weed and feed formula that kills weeds at the same time you fertilize.
I like to give a light application of lawn fertilizer to trees and shrubs in October.
Add mulch to beds
Mulch is your best natural weed preventer. I like to add bark or compost to mulch around trees, shrubs and perennial flowers to keep it 2 inches deep. Additional mulch now will keep any weed seeds that have blown in from getting the light they need for sprouting. Most of my mulch comes from grass clippings and chopped-up leaves. I often apply bark dust (soil pep) over my other compost to give it a uniform look.
Make plans for bulb planting
Fall planted bulbs will add lots of color to your landscape early next spring just when you appreciate it the most. New beds for bulbs can be created in front of shrubs, walls or fences. If spaces are not wide enough, expand them. Bulbs can be interplanted with ground covers or annual flowers. Make plans now so you can get the right colors, sizes and quantities. More about bulbs next week.
Plant trees, shrubs and perennial flowers
Fall is an excellent time to plant permanent plants. Their roots become established in the warm fall soil. Then they are ready to make rapid growth next spring. Plants established now will be well ahead of those planted next spring.
Use vinegar for killing weeds
One of my readers has informed me of the effectiveness of ordinary white vinegar as a weed killer. Simply add a tablespoon of dish detergent to a gallon of vinegar and spray it on weeds. The detergent helps it to stick to the leaves. Some perennial weeds may resprout from roots and need more than one application.