Fall can be a focal time for your garden. Rather than pruning back perennials and cleaning up tools, take some time to scrutinize your entire outdoor environment. Here are four areas that may help your garden get a jump on spring:
1. Pamper the plants
While you move potted and hanging plants indoors, resist the urge to prune what will remain outside. You're better preparing your garden for a potentially grim winter ahead by leaving such things as shrubs, vines and ornamental grasses well enough alone. The exception: watering. Since trees and shrubs continue to lose moisture in the winter, now is the time (before hard frosts sets in) to give them a watering boost. And be sure to label any new or recently planted foliage with a permanent waterproof pen on a weatherproof plant marker, particularly if your garden is ever-growing. This will help identify everything come spring.
2. Let leaves toil
Make your fallen leaves work harder for you. Start by raking them all off your lawn, and borrow or rent a mulching mower to grind them up. Whatever isn't used as mulch in your flowerbeds (and soon-to-be-planted trees) can be stored in bags near your composter all through winter. Simply add a layer of leaves atop each layer of compostable kitchen waste. It should act as an amour against odor.
3. Time to add trees
Unless it's already snowing where you live, now is the perfect time to add more trees to your property: the soil's not yet too cold and still contains sufficient oxygen. To plant a new tree, dig a hole roughly five times as wide and deep as the root ball. Don't till the existing soil too much; the roots will better adjust with less interference. Instead, nurture it with a thick top-dress of compost, and later, add about five inches of mulch. Continue to water until the temperature starts to really dip. Flank the newly planted tree with secure posts, and wrap a flexible support around these and the tree in a figure-eight pattern.
4. Harvest time
Of course, one of the most rewarding times on the fruit and vegetable garden's calendar is the harvest: reaping what you've sown (and grown). But exercise patience. Take potatoes, for instance. If they're going to be stored instead of consumed immediately, it is important that the tubers sufficiently harden in the soil beforehand, preventing diseases and shrinkage due to water loss. Vines should be killed or removed two weeks before digging the potatoes, if not by normal maturity or frost, then by pulling, or simply cutting the vines off at ground level. Potatoes should be stored in a dark place to avoid turning green. Lifted vegetables such as carrots, beets and turnips should be stored between layers of sand or in cardboard cartons in a dry, well-ventilated room. On the other hand, be sure to pick tomatoes, apples, pears and plums - as well as other fruits that continue to ripen after being picked - before the frost.