With Labor Day behind us, unofficially summer takes the backseat to the cooler temperatures, and shorter days of autumn. Leaves just barely start to turn, signaling the end of the growing season with frost not too far away. The reality of gardening in the upper Midwest is that springs and summers are never quite long enough. As a result, embrace the autumn season by making the very best of these shorter days in the garden. Fall is a perfect time to assess the garden, refresh tired summer plantings, divide perennials, and add new plants.
I encourage gardeners to use this time of year to assess the trials and tribulations of their gardens while they are fresh in their minds. Take note of the things that you would like to tweak or include in new plantings (now or in the spring). It is a whole lot easier to remember variety names when they are written down. Take photos of winning plant combinations you would like to repeat again and areas that need to get revamped. Keep a folder of these reminders as they will also serve as inspiration for new garden ideas.
Fall’s cooler temperatures make it an ideal time to divide clump-forming perennials, and to move existing perennials around. Since horticulture is the only science where multiplication can be done through division, dividing your favorite perennials now will allow you to economically add more of your favorites, or to share plants with friends. Don’t be afraid to dig in, divide, and conquer. The process will hurt you more than the plant, and will actually breathe new life into older perennials once they are divided. Use a shovel to split clumps into smaller divisions and then replant in their new locations. Cut back foliage near the ground line to minimize stress and water them into their new homes.
Treat yourself to new trees, shrubs, and perennials now to lighten your load come spring. The fall temperatures will make it easier to keep new plants watered, and they will be ready to take off when spring comes around. Try to have them in the ground before the third week in September to allow them enough time to root in before the ground freezes in late November.
And last but not least, plant bulbs! After all, bulb planters are the optimists of the world, something the world could use a few more of these days. All gardens evolve and with a little optimism and love, will improve over time.
Scott Endres is co-owner of Tangletown Gardens and the Wise Acre Eatery on 54th and Nicollet in South Minneapolis.