Take a deep breath; you can smell fall in the air. The changing leaves, cooler weather and shorter days signal a new season. If fall weather has restored your energy and gardening interest after a long, hot summer, here are a few gardening chores that might need your attention:

Ornamental peppers

Ornamental peppers add color and interest to fall planters.

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Indian corn

Indian corn makes a beautiful fall display.

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Pansy

Plant pansies in fall, and they’ll do double-duty now and in spring.

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

  • Tired of looking at your weary annual planters? If your petunias and impatiens have seen better days, consider doing an overhaul with mums, ornamental cabbage and kale, as well as cheery ornamental peppers.
  • Harvest any remaining warm-season vegetables that may still be hanging out in your garden. Too many unripe tomatoes? Green tomatoes can be picked and wrapped in newspaper to continue ripening. And don’t be too hasty to harvest cool-season crops like cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts. A light frost actually improves the taste of these crops.
  • Fall is an ideal time to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs. Planting this time of year is favored by long, mild autumns with adequate rainfall. Also, soil temperatures remain favorable for root growth. (Roots continue to grow until soil temperatures drop below 40 degrees F.) Another plus for fall planting: Most plants have finished with flowering and/or fruiting, so they can now concentrate on root growth – critical for new plant establishment! So take advantage of this time to renovate or add to your landscape.
  • Fall is also the ideal time to plant pansies. (Some people think these plants are just for spring planting, but that’s just not the case!) Plant pansies in fall, and they’ll do double-duty in the garden – providing color now and color again come spring. Consider a light mulch of pine boughs for winter protection from snow and freezing temperatures.
  • Don’t put the lawn mower away just yet! Cool-season grasses (bluegrasses, perennial ryes and fescues) need to be mowed as long as they continue to grow. The final cut for the season is generally around Thanksgiving.
  • Fall is also a good time to control perennial broadleaf weeds in your lawn. Dandelions, plantains and lambs quarters are but a few weeds that can be found living with your grass this time of year. If these weeds are troublesome, use a weed killer (herbicide) according to label directions. Ask the staff at your local garden center for a recommended chemical to use.
  • Houseplants become houseplants again – if you had moved them outside for some fresh air when the weather was warmer, it’s time to move them back in now. To avoid bringing six-legged creatures indoors, do some careful inspections before bringing in your potted plants. Check the leaves (remember to look at the undersides of leaves, too) and remove any that appear troubled. Not sure what’s troubling them? Bring a sample of the problem (in a sealed plastic bag) to your local garden center.
  • It’s time to think spring – spring-flowering bulbs, that is! Remember, you need to plant these bulbs in fall to enjoy the beauty of hyacinths, daffodils, crocus and tulips come spring. Not sure when exactly to plant the bulbs? Just count back – you need to finish planting six weeks before the ground freezes. Not ready to plant your bulbs? Keep them in a cool, well-ventilated area until you can plant them. Generally speaking, bulb planting should be finished before Thanksgiving.
  • Meanwhile, dahlias, cannas and gladiolas need to be carefully dug up and stored for winter. Once a frost has blackened the leaves, gently dig/lift the bulbs or rhizomes from the soil with a digging fork. Place them in the sun to dry for a day or two. Then store in mesh bags or open boxes in a cool, frost-free location for winter. They can be replanted outside when all danger of frost has passed in spring.
  • Leaf season is not just about leaf-peeping; it’s also the season for raking! Remember to shred leaves and add it all to the compost pile, or use it as a topdressing of mulch in your planting beds. And when you do mulch, 2-3 inches of it is all you need. If you’ve recently reseeded/renovated the lawn, be certain to remove any leaves that can smother young grass. (And go easy with the rake so you don’t dislodge new grass seedlings.)
  • Finally, pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn can be found just about everywhere, from your supermarket to local garden center to roadside “U-picks.” Why not buy a few extra pumpkins and such for carving, baking and decorating?

A little time spent in the fall garden brings great rewards come spring. Until Old Man Winter comes a-knockin’, it’s still too early to throw in the trowel for your winter respite!