Fall work in the garden pays off come spring

Now that the summer heat is easing, it's the perfect time to head back out into the garden, so grab your shovel and garden gloves and get to work planting anew.

"Fall is a great time to plant in general," shared Barbara Floyd, a master gardener with the Virginia Cooperative Extension James City County/Williamsburg Master Gardeners program. "Most trees and shrubs do best when planted in the fall. Planting trees, shrubs, and perennials in the fall gives the plants a chance to become well established in a dormant season before the stressful heat of the following growing season occurs. Planting in the fall is also easier on the gardener because the weather is more pleasant for outside activities."

Peggy Krapf, a certified landscape designer and owner of Heart's Ease Landscape & Garden Design in Toano, agreed.

"September is one of my favorite months in the garden," she said. "Lots of perennials look better in the fall after the heat is over. A lot of plants take on a whole new vigor. It's beautiful."

Fall-blooming perennials to consider for your yard include mums, pansies, violas, black-eyed Susans, certain sedums and Salvia greggi, or Texas sage.

"It's hearty here, and a great plant," said Krapf. "Mexican sage is also spectacular. I also love that plant."

Autumn is also the time to plant spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths which need the long period of cooler temperatures before they bloom in the spring.

As for your vegetable garden, beets, carrots, turnips, broccoli, arugula, kale, cabbage, collard greens, spinach, lettuce, radishes, leeks, onions, and garlic all flourish in the cooler weather. These veggies tend to grow better in the fall when there is less heat as well as less of an insect problem.

"You want to plant cole crops, vegetables that require shade and cooler weather," said Joanna Burkhart, garden center manager at Cooke's Gardens on Jamestown Road. Cole crops include members of the mustard family, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi. "Wait until there is a week of 70 degrees or cooler."

There is also a fair bit of clean-up work to accomplish in the fall, such as trimming back dead brush and flowers, clearing up debris left behind from the summer season, and prepping the yard for the upcoming winter season.

"Preparing the garden for winter should include removing any plant material that has become diseased over the summer growing season, including leaves on the ground, to help prevent disease in the following year," said Floyd. "After adding compost, any plants that are especially prone to winter damage should be mulched."

When the leaves start to fall from the trees, don't bag them after you've raked them.

"Chop up your leaves with the lawn mower to mulch around your plants to keep down winter weeds and conserve water," suggested Laura Viancour, landscape director for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. "They also make great compost."

Added Floyd: "The leaves on your property are a valuable resource. Rather than blowing, raking, and bagging, consider blowing the leaves into the flower or landscape beds and using them as mulch or consider mulching the leaves and using them as compost in flower and landscape beds. The same is true for pine needles. They also make an excellent mulch."

Fall gardening tips

•Plant spring bulbs in beds and lawns

•Plant cole crop vegetables

•Clean up dead plant debris and weeds

•Bring houseplants back indoors

•Apply a fall lawn fertilizer

•Prune hedges a final time, or plant new shrubs, bushes, and trees

•Rake leaves and compost them.

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