By Molly Hendry
Two of the most important tools you can carry in the garden are a pocket notebook and a pen because the skill of observation has the power to guide your gardening endeavors. Note things you observed: the perennials that are reaching for the sun, the shrub that rotted out in the excessive summer rain and poor drainage, the stunning combination of colors that you finally nailed, the prolific plant that has made itself quite at home in a particular bed, or a view that needs to be opened up. The act of observing and recording makes you an active participant in your space. Each observation is like a penny in the piggy bank of your relationship with the garden, and before you know it they add up to priceless intuition.
While observations are key to your success, many will need to be translated out of your notebook and into actionable gardening decisions. Identify the sunny spot that those reaching perennials would love to move to. Pick a shrub that could replace the one that couldn’t handle the heavy soils. Identify a tree that would shade your favorite spot to sit on warm summer days. Pick out some late-flowering plants that could fill those blooming gaps you noticed. Armed with a plan you will have a clear direction for your gardening tasks.
Once you have a plan in place, it is time to grab your shovel, because fall is the time to plant! Planting when temperatures have cooled will allow plants to get their roots firmly established in their new home before the big push of spring growth. By the time Thanksgiving arrives, it is also time to get your spring- flowering bulbs in the ground! While you are at it, dig any perennials that need dividing or editing because, come winter, they will be disappearing below ground and it will be hard to maneuver those edits you need to make. So capitalize on breezy cool days to get any planting or transplanting completed so your plants can settle into winter and be ready for spring!
Once you have finished any planting or transplanting, it’s time to prepare your garden to rest for winter. After the first killing frost hits, many of your perennials will be in need of cutting back. Leaves will continue to fall, and excess leaves are the perfect organic matter to incorporate into your compost pile. Your planting beds will also appreciate a fresh layer of mulch to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and protect tender roots through the colder months.