Prepare Your Garden for Fall


Assess the Damage

A flower garden can tell you a lot at the end of the growing season. You’ll want to assess the results of all your spring and summer work, and prepare the garden for next spring. First, take a walk around your garden and look at how all the plants did over the summer. Track successes and failures of individual plants. Identify which plants have outgrown their space and need to be divided.

Add Mulch

Determine which bare areas could use soil amendment and new plants. Add mulch where necessary.

Check for Diseases

Check the overall health of plants — look for diseases and damage.

Replace Old with New

Replace summer annuals in window boxes and garden beds with cool-weather flowers. September begins the season for the first of the fall and winter plants. These will be croton, ornamental pepper, marigold, petunia and ornamental cabbage. Snapdragons, dianthus, mums and others will begin to show up by the middle of the month. Pansies and cyclamen must have pretty cool temperatures, and will show up in garden centers in mid-October through November.


You’ll want to weed, deadhead faded blooms, divide overgrown plants, dig up non-hardy bulbs for winter storage, remove spent annuals, amend soil and add needed mulch. Replace ties with jute twine. Natural fibers make the best ties because they’re more flexible. They’ll break down over time, but at that point, it will be time to retie the plants anyway. Amend soil where there are bare spots or where you’ve removed annuals. Add compost and peat moss to replace nutrients lost during summer growth and to better prepare the soils for spring planting. Turn the amendments into the soil with a garden fork to distribute it evenly. Brush off any mulch that’s sitting on branches of shrubs because it can cause leaves and needles to yellow.

Fertilizing the Lawn

It’s also the right time to fertilize turfgrasses, preferably with slow-release, all-natural fertilizer. When given adequate nutrients, turfgrasses can store food in the form of carbohydrates during the winter months. That will mean a better-looking lawn come spring. This six-week window is also the perfect time to put down a second application of selective, pre-emergent herbicide. The first application — which lawn enthusiasts usually apply in late winter to early spring — takes care of weed seeds that overwintered in the lawn. The second application deals with weed seeds that were deposited during the summer months. At the end of the year, you can also make an application of post-emergent herbicide, or you can spot-treat weeds with a non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate. For spot treatments, you can also use an all-natural formulation such as horticultural vinegar or clove oil. Caution: Know the difference between selective and non-selective herbicides. Selective herbicides target specific weeds or seeds without damaging turf grass or landscape plants in the process. Non-selective herbicides destroy anything and everything green.

Rose Care

Roses should be trimmed back hard – down to 18-30 inches – and fertilized by early to mid-September or not at all. Fertilizing or hard pruning later in fall will cause late flushes of growth that could weaken the plant if we get an early cool snap. Deadheading is always okay.

Disinfect Pruners

Disinfect pruners before using them on other plants as you remove spent blooms and foliage throughout the garden.

Pallet Compost Bin

Don’t put any diseased plants into your compost pile.

Perennial Border

Dividing perennials reinvigorates plants and gives you new plants to add to other areas of your garden or to share with neighbors and friends.

Ready Your Container Plants

Believe it or not, the most overlooked group of plants this time of year is container plants, and there are plenty of things to consider with respect to their care.

Annual Container

By definition, these plants only last a year, but there are ways to extend their lives. You can, for example, take cuttings of various annuals and root the in either water or a potting medium such as vermiculite, perlite or soil-less potting mix. Just remember to strip all but the top few leaves off the stem, keep the potting medium moist at all times and keep plants out of direct sunlight. Within a few weeks the plants should develop a dense mass of roots, at which point you can pot them up and grow them as houseplants. This doesn’t work with all annuals, but it’s fun to experiment.

Transplanting Perennials

Consider transplanting perennials from their containers directly into the garden. Carefully remove them from their pots, trim their roots a bit to stimulate the growth of new feeder roots, stick them in the ground and trim their top growth a little. It is still early and a little hot, so consider doing this closer to the end of the month, and through October.

Herb Container

They tend to look pretty shabby toward the end of summer, so either harvest and dry them or consider switching out for cool-seasons plants like parsley and dill. There are still a few months of warm weather, so warm seasons plants like basil can be trimmed back and fertilized, and will give another flush of good growth before cold weather comes.

Keep the Birds Coming

When you invite birds into your yard by feeding them, they do a fantastic job of keeping the insect population in check, which means you don’t have to spray or dust as often to control pests.

Don’t Forget the Shed!

Take time to clean your garden storage area, tossing old chemicals — responsibly of course — and taking note of what you’ll need to replenish before next spring. A number of gardening products have a shelf life and may lose their effectiveness over time or if they get too hot or too cold. That’s particularly true of botanical insecticides such as Bt and beneficial fungi. And of course you should tend to your tools. Rub metal tool surfaces with a light coating or oil; rub wooden tool handles with boiled linseed oil; and sharpen everything that needs it with a proper file.