Whether you are hoping for a big harvest, a beautiful landscape, or a little stress relief, knowing the when and how of gardening will help you be a success. Use these timely garden tips to eliminate some of the guesswork. For more gardening tips, check out Melinda's gardening books.
Take time to evaluate the summer season. Look for ways to improve the beauty and decrease water and pesticide use. It may mean moving plants to a location that better matches their needs, thinning plants to increase air circulation and decrease disease, or mulching the garden to conserve moisture, reduce weeds and eventually improve the soil.
Gardening Tips for Flowers
Fall is for planting and that includes pansies. The cold hardy pansies such as Icicle, Sub Zero and Second Season provide a colorful show in the fall, survive the winter and give a repeat performance in the spring. Mix them with bulbs to double the impact of your tulip and daffodil plantings or tuck them into the perennial garden for a little late fall and early spring color. Southern gardeners can enjoy pansies, ornamental cabbage and kale and snapdragons as well as colorful chard and leaf lettuce all winter long.
Consider starting a new garden. Fall is a great time to prepare the soil for future gardens and you can even plant perennials now. Add several inches of organic matter to the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. The organic matter improves the water holding ability of sandy and rocky soils while improving drainage in clay soils. Once the soil is prepared you can purchase or dig and divide perennials for fall planting.
Or leave the garden roughly prepared in fall for planting next spring. A final tilling and raking in spring is all you will need to start planting your new garden. Preparing the soil in advance increases the chance of getting a new garden installed during the typically wet spring weather.
Gardening Tips for Edibles
Vine ripened tomatoes have the best flavor for use - fresh or preserving. Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing and flowering until the frost kills the plant. Northern gardeners can prune off the stem tip of these tomatoes in September. This will redirect the plant's energy into ripening the existing fruit instead of producing more tomatoes that won't have time to mature. The same works for vine crops such as pumpkins, melons and squash. Prune off the tips of their stems to speed ripening of the existing fruits.
Sunflowers are a favorite for kids of all ages. Not only are they fun to grow, but they are also great to eat, if you can beat the birds and squirrels to the seeds. You may need to do a bit of work to protect some of the harvest for yourself. Cover the flowers with cheesecloth or season-extending fabric to keep the birds and squirrels out. Check the head often for ripeness. The seeds are ripe when the back of the flower head is brown or the yellow petals dry. At that time the fluffy covering rubs off the seeds that have developed their characteristic gray stripes. You can eat them fresh or hang the harvested flowerheads upside down in a warm dry place to dry. Remove the seeds by rubbing your hand over the face of the flower. Store the seeds in an airtight container in a cool dark place so you can enjoy your harvest throughout the fall.
Trees, Shrubs and Roses
Fall is a great time to plant. Call 811 to contact your local utility locating service at least three days prior to planting. They will locate underground utilities and mark their locations so you can avoid damaging them during planting. The service is free and may save you money or your life. Be sure to check above your head for overhead utilities. Avoid planting trees and large shrubs near utility lines. Remember that a tiny little plant will grow into a large tree or shrub, so give it plenty of room to flourish and reach its mature size.
A white powdery film covering the leaves of lilacs is a common sight this time of year. The culprit is powdery mildew and different strains can be found growing on lawns, bee balm, phlox, begonias, and other landscape plants. Those in drought stricken areas may notice more problems since drought stressed plants are more susceptible to the disease. Fortunately, powdery mildew often strikes late in the season and the plants can tolerate the infection. The leaves may eventually yellow, brown and drop off. Rake and destroy fallen leaves to reduce the source of infection for next season.
Lawns and Groundcovers
Fall is also a good time to sod bare areas or start new lawns. Add several inches of organic matter to the top 6 inches of soil. Rake smooth and then lay the sod in place. Stagger the seams much like a mason does with bricks. Butt the ends of the sod together to compensate for shrinking that naturally occurs. Then keep the soil moist until the sod roots into the ground. Once rooted begin watering thoroughly but less frequently. Mow the grass as needed.
Check groundcover beds for bare areas. Fall is a great time to fill in voids or create new planting beds. The warm soil and cool air is easier on the plants and minimizes the effort needed to get new plants off to a healthy start.
The hot summer weather is tough on lawns, but great for most weeds. Dig the few that may have sprouted in your yard over summer. Those with large weed populations and large yards may choose to use chemicals. Minimize the negative impact on the environment by spraying only the weeds not the whole lawn. Then evaluate your lawn care practices. A healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds. Proper watering, mowing and fertilization will keep your lawn healthy and better able to crowd out the weeds.
Tips for Indoor Plants
It's time for northern gardeners to start moving houseplants and tropicals indoors for winter. Quarantine these plants for several weeks. Check the stems as well as the upper and lower surfaces of leaves for insects. A strong blast of water and several applications of insecticidal soap can take care of common pests such as aphids and mites.
Once the plants have passed quarantine move them to a sunny window indoors. Those moving to lower light areas need to gradually adjust to the decrease in light. Give the plants several weeks in a bright sunny window, followed by several weeks in a moderately bright window and then place in their permanent location. Don't be surprised if some leaves yellow and drop. This is just the plants way of adapting to their new location.
Reduce this problem by adding some artificial lights to your indoor garden. The extra light will keep plants looking good throughout the winter and the added growing space may be just what you need for all those new plants you purchased this season.
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