Lime Glow Barberry

Think about it: Which season do you most anticipate? For many gardeners, spring can’t come soon enough after a dreary, cold winter. How about summer? You bet—who doesn’t gladly welcome longer days and warmer temperatures? Winter is great, too—and we don’t get too much say in the matter as retailers seem to start promoting Christmas earlier and earlier each year. Autumn, though, seems to be increasingly overlooked.

It’s not entirely the fault of retailers that fall gets passed by. Around here, summer seems to run from July through September, so with a late start to nicer weather, nobody is eager to welcome autumn. We take a couple weeks in October to celebrate the harvest and then it’s on to Christmas. As a gardener, what can you do to make the most of fall?

First, step outside and reassess your yard. With summer vacations over and kids back in school, you likely have a little bit more time to dedicate to gardening. Maybe you’ve noticed that weeds are popping up again after our recent rains. Grab your gloves and Hula Ho and get to work! There is plenty of time left in the season for weeds to grow, so don’t let them get a foothold.

Second, take a look at what could use pruning. Now before you go crazy with the hedge trimmer, hold on—I’m not talking about serious, “Will-it-grow-back?” pruning like you might do in the spring. But do you have some shrubs that could use a light haircut? Don’t be afraid to trim back unsightly branches—and certainly you should continue to prune back suckers. Remember, most plants are very forgiving; if looking at a misshapen shrub all winter will make you miserable, prune it!

Third, fertilize. For your lawn, it’s still too early to use a “winterizing” fertilizer, which is designed to prepare grass for spring. In September, your best option is to fertilize with Scotts Super Turf Builder. Later in the fall, after grass has gone dormant (usually in November), plan to apply a winterizing fertilizer. Also, now is a great time to apply a fast-acting lime like Super Sweet to help utilize the nitrogen in your fertilizer. At Vander Giessen’s, we prefer Lilly Miller Super Sweet to the more commonly used dolomite lime because it’s cheaper, faster-acting and overall, more effective.

Next, take stock of what plants could stand to be replaced or take another look at those unfinished landscaping projects around the house. Historically, September is the best month of the year to plant shrubs, trees and perennials. Though spring is often thought best for planting, in reality, early- to mid-autumn is even better. Cooler temperatures and regular rainfall make care easier and most plants will soon go dormant anyway, suffering less transplant stress. Plus, many nurseries currently have great fall sales going on! Planting now will allow your new plants to establish their roots this fall so come next spring they can dedicate all their energy to above-ground growth.

Obviously, autumn is just beginning, but as you look forward to the season, make room in your yard for some beautiful fall color. Vine maples offer a kaleidoscope of gold, orange and red tones. The fiery crimson hues of the burning bush will be sure to turn heads, and most Japanese maples exhibit their most striking beauty in autumn—‘Orido Nishiki’ is one of my favorites with its distinctive shades of gold and red.

Whether you’re looking to redo a flowerbed, plant a hedge or fill a hole in your garden, enjoy the beauty of summer’s final bow and embrace the “forgotten season” of autumn by getting back outside and visiting your local independent nursery to find the plants you need to brighten up your yard.