From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Fall chores you can skip and those to do for a nice yard and garden next spring!

By Julie Reardon


Notes from a Lazy Farmer: Fall chores you can skip and those to do for a nice yard and garden next spring!

Some people are out dividing unruly iris and daffodil patches and planting new bulbs right after Labor Day. Not me, it’s generally too hot for that and I’ve never had much luck with iris, at least, not to the point I ever had enough to divide. And in my world, daffodils that have gotten too crowded are divided in spring, after they’ve bloomed but before the foliage completely dies off, preferably after a soaking rain to make the digging easier.


Yes, you are supposed to divide daffodils in the fall, say the experts. But daffodil bulbs are too hard to find without their foliage, and that’s if you even remember they were so crowded they didn’t bloom very well months after the fact. If their spring blooms were anemic, their ugly dying foliage will remind you daily that you should have divided them last year and you need to do something about them.


So forget dividing your daffodils now. Mine always handle division just fine in spring, a trick I learned from a wise old friend who used to divide hers then and give me the extras. I still have some that have survived several moves and divisions—all in spring. While it’s better to wait until the leaves start yellowing to dig them up, even that’s not absolutely necessary. If a patch is too crowded to bloom well, who cares? You’re just rearranging greens for next year’s blooms. The only bulbs I plant in fall are must-have new ones, because that’s the only time you can find them for sale. Believe me, if I could find them for sale in spring, that’s when I’d plant them, even if it meant I had to wait a full year for them to bloom. It would be so much easier to know just where to plant them if the location of the ones you already have were still visible. In fall you never remember their exact location unless you’re organized enough to have a detailed map of your garden (and in that case you’re reading this and laughing at the rest of us!).

Whoever said mulching shouldn’t be done until the ground freezes, probably enjoyed gardening in frigid weather. Mulching is not something you have to do here, but it looks nice, and protects roots from drying out and helps with weed control so if you mulch, there’s no harm in adding to what you have for winter. Ideally, organic mulch should be used year round. If you do feel you need extra for winter, add it well before the ground freezes.


Ignore all those ads that say your lawn needs to be treated in fall for strong roots to survive winter with an application of a high phosphorus fertilizer mix. Nonsense: this is Virginia, not Minnesota. Phosphorus is probably the most overused fertilizer in home gardens and commercial landscaping and the runoff makes its way into streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, contributing to pollution. And most landscape soils have plenty of it; besides polluting the water, overdoing the phosphorus is actually harmful to beneficial microbes in the soil that grass and other plants need. Top dress your lawn with compost, either bagged commercial or homemade. Compost provides plenty of slow release nutrients to nourish lawns through the winter so they look good in the spring.


Those of us with small yards or who utilize containers for deck or patio gardening will have a few chores even if you have little or no lawn, and lugging big pots around can be hard, dirty work. The good news is, you don’t have to do everything at once since many annuals and container plants bloom beautifully in fall, right until the first frost or later if they’re in a protected location. So you can stagger your pot cleaning right up until Christmas. Discard plants when they stop blooming, become unsightly or die off from frost. Unless a container is specifically made for outdoor use year round, empty the soil and store them in a shed or garage. If you don’t have room, at least turn them upside down and move any lightweight ones someplace they won’t be knocked over or blown by winter winds.

Stored containers last longer and look better than the ones left exposed. Pots left with soil in them freeze and thaw causing them to crack and split. Wood rots, pottery cracks and clay crumbles. A little maintenance now goes a long way. The real bonus of tending to the containers in fall instead of letting this chore wait until spring is that you will enjoy your outdoor space much more on those balmy winter and early spring days if it’s not festooned with pitiful dead plants in cracked containers, but left tidy for the coming season. We’re fortunate here to have mild days in winter and many more in early spring before official planting season arrives.

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