The past few weeks have been absolutely glorious. Perhaps this extended summer is making up for the cool days of July. Gardens are looking great and the late-season blooming perennials like anemones, rudbeckia, sedums, ornamental grasses and mums are flourishing.
Despite the fact that the air is fresher and cooler in the morning, and the days are getting a bit shorter, do not be in a rush to put your garden to bed. Seed heads and foliage that is colouring or getting ready to change are beautiful. The migrating birds will thank you for not being tidy.
Do cut back any plants that look diseased or stressed, particularly the ones that are past their prime. Some plants can easily become weeds if allowed to flower, so these are also plants that can use come pruning.
When you look at your soon-to-be fall garden, do you see gaps or spaces that need to be filled? Perhaps you have a lack of flowers and blooms or fall colour. This is a great time to assess your garden, particularly while you still remember what happened throughout the season. Make notes, and perhaps head to the local garden centres as they still have a wide selection of plants and often end-of-season discounts.
It is tempting to buy one of everything when you are plant shopping but try and make a plan. Large drifts of plants, or repeating clumps, look better in the garden than a lone plant. Buy plants in groups, and try to stick to one or two varieties. This gives the garden a more planned or cohesive look.
The one job in the garden that still has to continue is watering. I know it is easy and alluring to throw in the irrigation towel, but fall is still an important time to continue your watering program. Any first-year plants are busy trying to establish a good root system to help them overwinter and thrive. Without regular watering in spells of drought, you can easily lose plants.
As plants start to die down above the soil line and the growth appears to stop, we have to remember that there is still a lot going on beneath the soil. Root systems are still growing and food reserves (from organic matter you fed to your garden earlier in the season) are being stored in the roots as well at this time.
Plants with large, healthy root systems have the advantage of being able to draw moisture from a larger soil system. This reduces year-round drought to the plant.
Periods of drought in trees and evergreen material will often produce fewer flowers, or no flowers. Plants that are usually lush and full and very green will suffer with brown or curled leaves and will look stressed next spring.
People often come to Master Gardener clinics with a leaf from their broadleaf evergreen that shows "winter burn." This usually occurs when dry winter winds pull water from the leaves faster than the leaves can replace it. Fall and winter drought stress can produce this type of damage.
Keep your plants healthy and well hydrated in the fall for healthy and thriving garden.