The surest sign of summer giving way to fall is a feeling of change in the air. The calendar shows that we are only days away from the autumnal equinox but as I write, the noon day sun is as warm as any day in August this year. As gardeners, we're the first to feel that subtle temperature drop each evening as the sun begins to set. For us, it's like having a sixth sense.
Along with the change of seasons, the focus of garden chores takes a distinct turn at this time of year. For gardeners with a natural bent to their gardens, it means we stop deadheading many perennials instead of encouraging another flush of bloom. Stop pruning roses with decorative rose hips so the shrub can set fruit.
Let a few of your favorite perennials go to seed, providing interest and bird-scaping for your fall and winter garden. Black-eyed Susans and purple cone flowers hold their seed heads well into winter. The birds will thank you for the ground cover and the nourishment packed inside the spent flower heads.
Once the fall rain begins, there are specific planting chores ideal for this time of year. By planting hardy perennials, trees and shrubs in the fall, you put your faith in a period of perfect growth conditions for new plantings. It's also an excellent time of year to transplant. To transplant evergreens successfully, take an extra step and water plants deeply for several days both before and after the move.
When you plant in mid- to late fall, the cooler temperature encourages the plant to expend its energy where it needs to at this time of year, under the soil. We can expect rain to come but even if there is a lull in its arrival, the sun begins to fall from a different angle so it won't leach all the moisture out of the soil. The earth below the surface still retains a degree of warmth. These conditions set the plant up properly for a period of dormancy.
Most gardeners who have been gardening for any amount of time have come to see the importance of a major focal point in the garden. You can fill your garden with plants, ornamentation and small pieces of garden art but without a distinct focal point it is hard to focus and see the garden as an integrated whole. This is a good time of year to tackle just such a project.
A pond or water feature has always been one of the most popular projects to fill this need. You have had all season to think about the details of your specific project and to contemplate any changes you want to make to an existing project. Set that project in motion and make this your job of the season. If you are thinking about adding a water feature, ask friends who have existing ponds or fountains for their help and advice.
If you already have an established water feature, there are a few seasonal tasks that are essential to keep yours in good condition. If your existing feature is shallow or in a freeze zone, you may want to store the pump in a garage over the winter. Remove the filter and either clean it or replace it in preparation for next spring. If your pump requires servicing do it now rather than waiting until spring when you will be swamped with garden chores.
Many gardeners like to put a light mesh net over the pond before the worst of the leaf fall occurs. As leaves collect in the net, remove them regularly. After all leaves have fallen from surrounding shrubs and trees, remove the netting. If you don't like the look of a covered pond or if you can't cover a large pond, make it a weekly, sometimes daily chore to use a leaf skimmer to remove leaves from the water. Remove leaves from below the surface as well as on the surface of the pond.
Much of what we do in the early fall season is thoughtful preparation for the upcoming winter and for next year. As the summer wanes and fall begins, our gardens invite us to undergo a metamorphosis along with them. Later in the evening, take a few minutes to think about any changes you want to make in your garden. Let your imagination take you wherever it wants to go. This too, is a part of gardening.