Fall Gardening To-Do List
Taking a Break from Drought
It was a tough, exceeding dry 2018 winter, spring and early summer growing season, until the monsoon rains materialized in July and August. The huge downpour in early July caused flooding, but did a lot of good where it was able to soak into the soil in non-eroding areas. And the rains continued into late August. Overall, it appears that much of Santa Fe county got some good rains and the fire season was not catastrophic like in other parts of the West. Now that fall is upon us, here are some of my recommendations for garden and landscape care.
Early Fall September-mid-October
1. Watering - September can be deceptively dry, especially after we've become accustomed to the monsoon rains. Continue to water regularly any transplants from the 2018 growing season during September and early October. Perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, trees and evergreens planted in the last two years need deep soakings at least twice weekly.
2. Mulching - Help to converse water and improve the soil moisture levels by making sure all of this year's transplants have a nice deep layer of mulch around their base and water holding saucer ("well") to shade the soil from the sun.
– For Xeric and many Native Plants use: 1 to 2” thick layer of pine needles, crushed pecan shells or crushed gravel.
– For Plants that Like more moisture and richer soil: 1 to 2” thick layer of composted bark (not bark chips or nuggets), shredded wood or leaves and coarse textured composts like Soil Mender BTE cotton burr compost.
Use LadyBug John's Recipe Liquid Fertilizer - add to a watering can and soak your this year's transplants at least a couple of times in early fall. Fall is an active time for root growth as the above ground stems and leaves have stopped growing and are getting ready for winter. This "root stimulator combo" as I call it, encourages new root growth. DO NOT use chemical fertilizers (like Miracle Gro or other powered fertilizers that dissolve in water) on your plants, but especially this time of the year; chemical nitrogen is readily up-taken by plant roots and stimulates unnatural late season growth that is subject to winter cold damage and dehydration (an important problem with our typically arid winter weather).
4. Hold off on Cutting Back of Your Garden - wait until early to mid-spring of next year. (See details below)
5. Hold off on pruning of woody shrubs and trees until late November- February. (See details below)
Late Fall Late October - November
Dehydration is a bigger problem in New Mexico than winter cold when it comes to plant survival over the winter months. Dry fall and winter weather is tough on plants, especially newly planted additions to your garden and landscape. And evergreens are especially susceptible to the affects of dry winter weather.
– Water Thoroughly one last time before your winterize your drip and sprinkler systems - this should be done late October or November. Make sure the ground has ample moisture by watering a last time before the ground begins to freeze (mid- to late November in Santa Fe)
– Winter watering is essential for all new perennials, shrubs and trees planted this past growing season. If there is no snow or rain, water when day temperatures are above 45⁰ F, once every three or four weeks.
2. Fertilizing (Feeding the Soil) For a healthy, resilient garden and landscape, healthy living soil is essential; so when we fertilizer, use organic and natural fertilizers like Yum Yum Mix and good quality composts to “feed the soil”. The web of life depends on the soil’s ability to break down fallen leaves and other organic materials and recycle the nutrients into the soil. This is accomplished by the incredible diversity of microbs, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil . After the first hard frost is a good time to mix-up a wheel barrow of high quality compost and Yum Yum Mix and top dress your flower beds, shrubs and younger trees and lawn. Just scatter the compost/Yum Yum Mix over the top of the soil and scratch it in lightly. Then set the sprinkler and water it in.
If you haven't treated your plants with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, it's easy to add the granules to the Yum Yum Mix and compost mixture. The spores will germinate over the winter months and make your garden and landscape plants healthier, more resilient and more water efficient. The Plant Success brand is available from highcountrygardens.com. Purchase the granular formulation.
3. Mulching Mulching is an essential tool for conserving precious soil moisture, building the soil's humus content and keeping the soil cold in the spring so plants don't wake up and bloom too early. I like to mulch after I've fertilized to cover the soil and the organic fertilizers so to help facilitate the organisms in the soil to break down the fertilizer and make it available to the waking plants in spring.
Fruit trees and other early blooming flowering trees and shrubs are greatly benefited by have the ground well mulched out to the drip line of the tree to protect them from pre-maturely warm early spring temperatures.
For Xeric and Native Plants use: 1 to 2” thick layer of pine needles, crushed pecan shells or crushed gravel.
For Plants that Like more moisture and richer soil like fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and evergreens : 1 to 2” thick layer of composted bark (not bark chips or nuggets), shredded wood or leaves and coarse textured composts like Soil Mender BTE cotton burr compost. Use clean straw for your fall and winter vegetable beds.
4. Garden Clean Up Enjoy the beauty of the fall and winter garden provided by dormant plants and grasses. In your flower beds and landscape plantings, let the perennials and ornamental grasses stand over the winter. This improves cold hardiness of plants like Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria) and native Sages (Salvia).
Protect beneficial insects and pollinator populations. The eggs and cocoons/pupae of beneficial insects, butterflies and moths are often attached to the dormant stems of your garden plants so let them stay and hatch next spring. Clean-up in mid-spring after a few weeks of warmer weather. Wait to prune trees and shrubs until late winter/early spring.
5. Planting Spring Blooming Bulbs Don't be in a hurry to plant your spring blooming bulbs. It is very important to let the soil cool from the effects of hard frosts and cold nights, Bulbs are a bargain and a great way to wake up your garden in spring, but plant them where they will get some supplemental irrigation. Common bulbs like tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths and others need spring moisture to bloom well, so plant them in irrigated beds. Shop local nurseries or visit High Country Gardens (above photo copyright HCG).
6. Planting Perennials, Ornamental Grasses, Shrubs, Trees and Evergreens Most cold hardy plants benefit from fall planting. Fall planted plants have extra time to establish their roots before winter and will bloom more robustly and grow strongly in the heat of summer that late spring transplants. Finish your plantings by late October.
October 6, 2018
WATERWISE Gardening and Santa Fe Cactus Garden Club plant sale.
WWG will have perennials available for sale.
7. Raking Leaves Avoid mulching with whole leaves as they will mat down and keep moisture and oxygen from reaching down into the soil. If possible, rent or buy a shredder that will grind up your leaves into a coarse pieces. Coarsely ground up leaves are a superb mulch and a great soil builder. Keep your leaves and pine needles on your property; they are a valuable resource for soil building and mulching.
8. Relax and Spend Time in Your Garden Doing Nothing Take a seat on your portal or layout on your hammock and enjoy the soothing beauty of your fall garden.