Fall is kind of like the Cinderella of the calendar, with three overwhelming stepsisters. The use of the word winter was the first to be established, with it being used consistently across many languages to mark a calendar year. For a very long time, it was the only noted season. Next came summer, derived from the Germanic word sumer, which translates loosely to the word half, marking the halfway point of the year.
Eventually spring evolved from the 12th century moniker, Lenten, that marked a religious time to variations of French and Latin words for green and new during the 15th century to finally being recognized by the name spring in the 17th century.
Fall, until that time, was simply referred to as haerfest, a time to bring in the harvest. It also had to claw its way into existence over the then popular term used by the English, autumn. However, by the 19th century, fall got invited to the ball and became the common American term for the season of falling leaves. I think the South has a special connection with the term fall, being that it rhymes with y’all.
Regardless of how it got here, fall is the time when many gardeners start to close up their garden beds after both blooms and bounty have slowed or stopped. There are more chores to be done than just removing spent plants in order to close up shop for the season and to set yourself up for a successful spring.
Lawn mowing may slow down, but those falling leaves make cleaning gutters necessary. Clogged gutters do not allow water to drain properly, causing overflow. The weight of debris can also cause them to sag, which can lead to cracks.
Anyone with pine trees knows they provide free mulch just waiting to be gathered and spread. Fall leaves may be a tedious task to rake and mulch, but they are a gardener’s gold. They make great natural mulch that helps enrich the soil, lock in moisture and protect plants from cold temperatures.
However, leaves need to be shredded first. A layer of leaves left whole can cause a blanket effect that prevents proper air circulation and causes rot and fungal diseases to develop. This is also the main reason to remove them from the lawn.
For vegetable or annual flower beds, after removing dead vegetation and leaves, pull back old mulch, add a layer of compost, and recover with a light layer of mulch. A thick layer will prevent the soil from freezing, which is necessary in order to kill many diseases and pests. After the ground freezes, another layer can be added. Mulch should also be spread around perennial herbs and flowers to maintain soil temperatures and prevent root damage.
This is a good time to prune some fall perennials such as bearded iris, catmint, daylily, ground clematis, hollyhock, phlox, sneezeweed, and false indigo. Save yourself some time and energy by leaving coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, and other native wildflowers. The seed heads of these plants provide food for birds all winter long.
Fall is the time to divide most spring and early summer blooming perennials, at least six weeks before the first frost. While the plant is out of the ground, add a little bit of organic matter to the hole before replanting, and make sure to keep the roots out of direct sun while they are out of the ground.
It is also a good time to fertilize cool-season grass, including tall fescue, ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass and hybrid bluegrass. Warm-season grasses such as Bahia, Bermuda, and Zoysia, should not be fertilized now, but in summer, ending in August, which is their main growing season.
Another task that will keep lawns healthy is lawn mower maintenance, which is also good for the health of the mower. Wear and tear on a mower can lead to larger maintenance issues and can affect the performance of the mover on the lawn. Common tune-up procedures include changing the oil, replacing the air filter, sharpening the blade, replacing the spark plug and cleaning the deck. Always refer to the user manual, remove the spark plug connection, and wear proper safety gear before beginning any maintenance on the mower.
Garden tools also benefit from a little maintenance. After washing tools, use steel wool to remove any rust, and then rewash in a bleach and water solution, rinse and dry thoroughly. Containers should be washed and stored, as well as packing away hoses and garden art that may be affected by freezing temperature.
After you are done with your chores, trade those garden shoes for some glass slippers and dance your way through fall. Until next week, happy gardening.
— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at [email protected] Visit https://mg.aces.edu/limestone for more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners.