Nurtured by Mother Nature and a gardener's hands, a garden thrives throughout the growing season.
Gardener's chores change with the season. Planting, weeding, feeding, watering, mulching and pruning are done at the most opportune times. The hectic activity of spring sowing shifts to summer mowing.
During intermittent periods throughout the year, gardeners are treated to the relative ease of maintaining the garden and simply enjoying its beauty.
Now that fall has arrived, gardeners prepare for two last activities before the snow flies. One is to assess the garden, taking notes about its changes and on any changes desired. The other is the fall cleanup.
The perfect time to assess the garden is now, as its structure becomes more visible. Take a walk around the garden armed with pencil and paper. Identify areas in which overcrowded perennials have demanded too much space and need thinning. Jot down the names of these plants and their current locations. Think about where they might be transplanted and note that, making a diagram if necessary.
If your garden is too full, jot down the names of friends who might enjoy your extra perennials. Keep your list for easy reference next year when you are ready to move these overcrowded perennials.
Because perennials often "disappear" during the winter, it is helpful to mark the plants with a plastic tag so they can be found easily in early spring. You will want to dig them up soon after they emerge through the spring soil because their small size makes them easier to handle than their mature size at the end of the season.
During your tour, pay attention to the entire garden. Not all fall projects involve plants. For example, does the trellis need rebuilding or repainting? Do the bricks along the garden path need replacing? Is the sitting bench in need of repair? Has the sun blistered the paint off the deck?
On your note-taking garden stroll, pay attention to what Mother Nature may have done to your garden. The summer may have beaten it up fairly well. Repair or remove any damaged plants, those that have succumbed to the relentless summer heat, dry winds and scarce water.
Perhaps you need to prune a tree limb snapped during a brisk wind. Perhaps you want to collect seeds. Store them in a dry place until spring. Note the maturation of the compost pile. This time of year is ideal for spreading aged compost into the garden soil. Its organic magic will work throughout the winter. Plus, you will have plenty to add to it during your fall cleanup.
For your garden cleanup, cut back the foliage of perennials to about 4 inches. Iris and mums are two Kansas favorites in need of a fall trimming.
Once frost has claimed the flowering annuals, pluck them from the garden and toss them into the compost heap along with leaves and other garden material. To prevent spreading diseases, avoid adding diseased plants to the compost pile, such as rose leaves with black spot.
Next, clear the garden of all the debris that has gathered. Rake up tree leaves, fallen twigs and the dried stalks of plants. Pick up and discard any paper debris that may have been blown into the garden. Retrieve golf balls, soccer balls and other wayward toys and return them to their rightful owners.
Some plants, such as wildflowers, shrubs and newly planted trees, need winter protection for their roots against exposure as the soil heaves with the winter freezes and thaws. Mulching for the winter freezes should wait until after the ground is frozen. This discourages pests from nesting in the mulch against still warm soil and nibbling away at the plants.
Some evergreens are damaged by the dry, cold winds of winter. Antidesiccant sprays prevent drying out by forming a film on the leaf surfaces. An application in November and February is generally sufficient.
Unfortunately, weeding is a chore that isn't confined to one season. It is a never-ending task. Continuing to weed the garden throughout fall reduces the opportunity for weeds to set their seeds, making your spring weeding more manageable.
These few simple chores done over the next several weeks will leave your garden in prime shape for the winter months, making the start of next spring's season more enjoyable.
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and garden writer for the Journal-World.