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As summer winds down, it’s time to get excited about fall gardening in Arkansas. I don’t know about you, but I find the tail-end of summer to be arduous. No matter how hard I try, by the time the back-to-school bell rings, my garden has grown tired, deer have done a number on their favorite plants, and the humidity stifles my weed-pulling energy. Just when I want to pack up my clippers, fall arrives in all her glory.
This year in the Northern Hemisphere, Autumn Equinox officially starts Monday, Sept. 23. As the arc of the sun begins shifting south, our nights will grow longer; our days shorter. Less daylight brings the beautiful fall foliage we enjoy throughout the state. In our backyards, the soil will begin to cool along with the temperatures. All this change brings new gardening opportunities. Seriously, who isn’t looking forward to pansy-filled nurseries? Simply walking the aisles provides comfort food for the eyes.
Before totally relaxing into porch-sitting weather, I have 15 things you can do to get your fall garden in tiptop shape. As with every season, the timing of your fall gardening activities will vary, depending upon the area of Arkansas you call home.
Do you know your average first frost date? (Click HERE to determine your first frost date based on city.) As you freshen your garden for fall and begin to prepare your beds for a long winter’s nap, keep in mind the date of your average first frost. Frost changes everything.
1 – Clean up your flower and vegetable beds. Deadhead perennials and pull weeds. Remove spent vegetable plants. Add (non-diseased) debris to your compost.
2 – Remove tomato cages and stakes used for supporting summer perennials. Before storing for next spring, clean them with a solution of 2-parts water to 1-part bleach. You don’t want to carry potential plant disease into next year.
3 – If you intend to grow a fall garden, plant according to the University of Arkansas’s Year-Round Home Garden Planting Guide. Certain seeds should be propagated inside and transplanted later. Again, planting dates will vary significantly from the lower Mississippi River Delta region to the northwest corner of Arkansas. Yes, you really do need to know your first frost date.
4 – Continue to monitor the moisture in your garden. Although temperatures will begin to cool, plants still get thirsty. Roots that dry out before winter will be more stressed as they head into cold weather.
5 – Divide spring and summer blooming perennials for better plant performance. Roots will have more space to spread. Click HERE for a comprehensive list and information on dividing perennials.
6 – Add cool-season color to your garden. Popular favorites include asters, chrysanthemums, pansies, violas, and kale. Why not spiff up your porch, deck, and/or entryway, too? Nothing says autumn like a bright orange pumpkin and a basket of yellow mums.
7 – Plant trees and shrubs in fall. The cooler soil temperatures encourage root growth. This is important because trees and shrubs will have a good chance of establishing before cold winter temperatures arrive.
8 – Prepare to overwinter potted plants. Clean up tropicals and houseplants that have been summering on the porch. Check for insects. Before the cold weather zaps them, bring them indoors.
9 – Rake with care, especially around foundations and fences where monarch chrysalides may be attached. Avoid disturbing or walking on the mulch around milkweed. Caterpillars may be crawling there as they prepare to pupate.
10 – Inspect your insect hotel. Dispose of any damaged or wet material to prevent a build-up of fungus, mites, or other parasites. Should you notice occupied tubes or tunnels (occupied tubes will be sealed off to protect eggs), carefully remove and store them in a cool, dry place during winter. (Return them to your hotel in spring.) Replace all the materials inside your insect hotel every two years. As these materials are untreated, they will begin to naturally degrade after a few seasons.
11 – Plant spring-blooming bulbs when the soil temperature is (ideally) between 40 and 60 degrees. If you live in north and central Arkansas, plant from mid-September until the end of October. South Arkansas gardeners should plant from late October until mid-December. In a pinch, bulbs can be planted later into winter and still typically perform.
12 – Plant a cover crop of rye or clover. Cover crops increase organic matter in the soil, help control erosion and weed growth, improve the soil’s structure, and attract beneficial insects. Next year’s spring garden will thank you.
13 – Before the first frost, take cuttings from plants you’d like to propagate. Certain plants such as begonia, coleus, creeping fig, and impatiens will easily propagate in plain tap water.
14 – Dig up tender bulbs and store them. Bulbs sensitive to freezing may include certain varieties of elephant ears, caladiums, dahlias, amaryllis, and gladiolus. Although some bulbs may survive a mild winter, this shouldn’t be expected.
15 – Just for fun, get a jump on this year’s winter gardening weather by consulting persimmons local to your area. What can it hurt? They ripen in October.
As the dog days of summer come to an end, I’d love to know what flourished in your garden during the hottest months? What will you do differently in 2020? And finally, what do you love most about fall gardening in Arkansas?
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