• David Salman

Fall Gardening To-Do List 2021

Fall Equinox, the first day of Fall arrives Wednesday, September 22, 2021. While the cool nights say "fall", the days have been unseasonably hot. But that gives us more planting time as the winter cold will like be arriving later than usual.

Fall is a magical time in the garden when plants naturally put their energy to grow many new roots as the season moves into winter. Now is the time to feed the soil and thicken up the mulch layer around your plants. And the mild weather is perfect for finishing all our gardening "to do" list and tuck in our gardens for winter.

Early Fall

September to mid-October

1. Watering

September and October can be deceptively dry, especially because the August monsoon rains were meager. Continue to water regularly any transplants from this growing season through 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.

3. Use Medina Fish Blend 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. Don't Cut Back Your Garden

Wait until early to mid-spring of next year. (See details below)

5. Wait to prune woody shrubs and trees until late November- February. (See details below)

Late Fall

late October to November


1. Watering

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 effects of dry winter weather.

  • Water Thoroughly one last time before you winterize your drip and sprinkler systems - this should be done in late October or November. Make sure the ground has ample moisture by watering one 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 2 to 3 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 microbes, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil . After the first hard frost is a good time to mix up a wheelbarrow 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.


3. Apply Beneficial Fungi to Plant Root Zones

In our arid western climate, most plants depend on beneficial mycorrhizal fungi to help them extract extra water and nutrients that plant roots can't reach. It's easy to add these amazing fungi to the soil using Granular Root Zone root inoculant 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.






4. 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 having 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.


5. 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 (don't cut back until spring). This improves the 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.

6. 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.

7. 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 than late spring transplants. Finish your plantings by late October.

8. Raking Leaves Keep your leaves and pine needles on your property; they are a valuable resource for soil building and mulching. Pile leaves as mulch around the base of pinon and all your other trees. They provide invaluable biomass to feed the soil.





9. 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.

© All articles, videos and images are copyrighted by WATERWISE Gardening, LLC.

Republishing an entire WATERWISE Gardening blog post or article is prohibited without written permission. Please feel free to share a short excerpt with a link back to the article on social media websites, such as Facebook.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts