University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
THE PERENNIAL GARDEN
Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
you're like me and haven't quite got your perennial garden in top
is a great time to catch up and have it ready for rapid spring
Fall is more leisurely, it is more cooling
working outside, weeds don't grow back, and you can go into winter
sense of order and accomplishment. Here
are 10 activities I "try" to get to each fall.
Cutting back. I used to leave perennials
until spring so their leaves and stems would recycle nutrients back
soil, as well as providing seeds for birds in fall. There never
enough time in spring,
though, so I have begun cleaning up and cutting back in the fall.
still leave ornamental grasses and plants
with attractive seedheads. This way I
have some fall effect yet less cutting back in spring.
Checking labels. I like to keep track of what I planted, and over time
seem to drift around, the writing wears off, or plastic labels break
exposed to sunlight. As a famous garden
writer once said, the only thing worse than a plant without a label is
without a plant. For large markers, what
I've found work best are the soft aluminum labels you write on and make
impression. Even if the ink fades, the impression remains to identify
plant. Plastic labels, which require replacing yearly or as they become
in sunlight, work well. Best is to write on them with pencil (which
up better than "permanent" markers).
Planting spring bulbs. Ideally
spring-flowering bulbs should be planted in late-September through
the north. But if they aren't in the
ground yet, better to plant late than wait or not plant at all.
Caging tall plants. If you have tall
perennials, an effective method of staking is to make a cage of wide
to place around them. During the slower fall months when you're not
and weeding, make some of these up and place on taller plants once you
back. If in a windy area, you may also have to put in a stake with the
hold it in place. You may have a couple of different sizes for
perennials. Plants will then grow up through the cage next spring,
Soil testing and amending. It is a good
idea to test your soil every year or two, amending it with lime and
as needed. Kits are available from many
garden stores and your local Extension office.
Lime is important to adjust the soil pH, raising it when too low or
acid. Without the proper soil pH
nutrients wont be as available, and plants wont grow as well. As
is slow acting, fall is a great time
to add it if needed, so it can improve the soil by spring.
6. Adding compost. A soil amendment you really can't have
much of is compost. It adds some
nutrients, improves soil structure, and helps soil microorganisms that
plants. I like to add a shovel full or
two around perennials once cut back in the fall so it too can act over
working into the soil. If buying compost, make sure it is from a
source and weed free.
and animal prevention. Rodents such as voles or field mice are looking
winter homes this time of year and getting set up. Cutting back
perennials and disposing of the
stems (such as composting), keeping grassy areas mowed, and traps are
For voles, an effective trap is to bait an inexpensive spring trap
with peanut butter, placing it by an entry hole to their burrow, and
placing a pot over the hole to trap. This way they think they're still
burrow and come for the bait.
planting bulbs such as tulips that squirrels and chipmunks love to dig
mesh on top of the bed. Avoid bonemeal (attracts skunks which dig
don't eat bulbs), using another source of phosphorus such as rock
(organic) or superphosphate instead.
Covering the bed with sharp stones or shells helps prevent digging too.
Dividing peonies. Wait to spring to divide most perennials when they
beginning active growth, but divide peonies most any time in the
Keep in mind they may not bloom the following
spring while they are getting new roots and growth.
Edging beds. Having a neatly edged bed does more than just keep
grass from growing into it. A neat edge
provides a sense of satisfaction, beauty, and for a "wild" bed that
is natural or just out of control, indicates there is a bed there and a
10. Storing tools and chemicals. Use a brush and water to
then wipe with a light coating or spray of oil (such as cooking
Many use a 5-gallon bucket filled with sand
and a quart of motor oil. After using
tools, scrape and rinse the heaviest dirt off, then push the tools in
of the sand mixture a few times. The
sand helps remove other dirt, the oil helps prevent rust.
forget to sharpen hoes and cutting tools such as pruners.
stones or power grinders and
sharpeners are available at complete garden and hardware stores.
forget to disconnect and drain garden hoses on a warm day before they
solid for winter. The same applies to
sprayers. Otherwise you may have openings in the spring not just at the
ends! If you have chemicals, especially
liquids, in an outdoor shed or unheated area, make sure they get stored
in a non-freezing
place over winter.