As autumn sets in and the vibrant colors of lush summer gardens fade away, many gardeners begin the process of putting their “beds to bed” in preparation for the cold season ahead. Yet, here in Alabama, the prolonged mild temperatures of Zone 7 still allow time for a whole new season of gardening-one that proves to be just as rewarding.
Depending on the size and location of your gardens, the transition into fall doesn’t need to be complicated. Andy Portera, co-owner of locally run Portera Landscape Design, recommends beginning the process with a few simple steps. Portera advises removing the brown leaves from plants, and snipping, or “deadheading,” any remaining flowers, such as daisies or coneflowers to help clean up perennial beds. Remove fallen leaves from the garden area, and place them into a compost bin where they can begin to degrade over the winter.
While fall gardens are typically filled with autumn’s signature warm and Earthy tones, Portera encourages playing around with a variety of colors and textures before settling on any set combination of plantings. Also keep in mind the versatile possibilities of container gardening. To showcase a greater range of colors, Portera suggests adding pansies, violas, or snapdragons. For an assortment of textures and varied heights, he recommends using kale, cabbage, ivy, sedums and heuchera.
Fall is an ideal time to plant and transplant trees and shrubs, explains Portera. “Dig your planting hole about 3 times as wide as the root ball and plant the tree or shrub just above the grade of the existing soil.” Be sure to water these plants diligently throughout the fall. It’s also a good idea to prune dead or dying limbs or branches from existing trees and shrubs during the fall season.
To help prepare for the upcoming springtime gardening season, spread compost over existing soil during the fall to help enrich the topsoil with microbial life. In addition, autumn is the time to be proactive in terms of applying weed control. “Apply organic pre-emergents to your planting beds and lawn to help prevent winter weeds,” says Portera, who recommends using Organic Preen, a weed control made from 100% corn gluten.
Conduct a soil test on your lawn and planting beds every 2-3 years to determine nutrients you will need to add in the spring,” says Portera. Test kits are available at the ACES office at the Botanical Gardens and at other various locations around Birmingham. For more information, tips, and ideas for fall gardening, visit Portera Landscape Design.
Written by Kate Agliata