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by High Country Gardens

It’s been a long hot summer here in northern New Mexico.  With June being the hottest and driest in anyone’s memory, September brought records rains that helped to temporarily put the drought on hold. So now what?

Fall Garden
Ornamental Grasses add interest to a Fall Garden
1. Feeding the Soil (Fertilizing)

One of the most basic principles of organic gardening is the need to “feed the soil”.  The web of life depends on the soil’s ability to break down fallen leaves and other organic materials and recycle the nutrients into the soil.  After the first hard frost is a good time to mix-up a wheel barrow of high quality compost and Yum Yum Mix Winterizer and top dress your flower beds, shrubs and smaller trees.  Just scatter the compost/Yum Yum Mix over the top of the soil and scratch it in lightly.  Then set the sprinkler and water it in.

 2. Mulching In the drier parts of the country like the Great Plains and Intermountain West, mulching is an essential tool for conserving precious soil moisture and building the soil. For those living in regions that get more than 25” of precipitation or have a lot of winter rain or slushy snow, mulching is NOT recommended. It will help attract slugs and cause disease from excess moisture around the crowns of perennials and ornamental grasses. -  For Xeric Plants use:  1 to 2” thick layer of pine needles, crushed pecan shells or crushed gravel. -  For Plants that Like more moisture and richer soil: 1 to 2” thick layer of composted bark (not bark chips or nuggets), shredded wood or leaves and clean straw (for your vegetable beds only). 3. Garden Clean up

Not so fast. Just let the perennials and ornamental grasses stand over the winter.

-  This improves cold hardiness of plants like Agastache, Zauschneria and Salvia. -  Helping beneficial insects and pollinators.  The eggs and cocoons/pupae of beneficial insects, butterflies and moths are often attached to the dormant stems of your garden plants so let them stay and hatch next spring.  Clean-up in mid-spring. -  Enjoy the winter beauty of many plants, especially ornamental grasses. -  Hold off pruning trees and shrubs until late winter/early spring
Salvia daghestanica with Artemisia Seafoam
Salvia daghestanica with Artemisisa Seafoam
 4. Watering Dry fall and winter weather is tough on plants, especially perennials and ornamental grasses. -  Make sure the ground has ample moisture by watering a last time before the ground begins to freeze (mid-November in Santa Fe and Denver) -  Winter watering is essential for all new perennials, shrubs and trees planted this past growing season. If there is no snow or rain, water when day temperatures are above 45⁰ F, once every three or four weeks. 5. Planting spring blooming bulbs Plant yourself a wonderful surprise.  Spring blooming bulbs must be fall planted to bloom next spring. Bulbs are a bargain and a great way to wake up your garden in spring.  And if you have the winter blues, a colorful drift of early crocus is a great way to lift your mood. 6. Planting perennials and ornamental grasses -  Fall is the very best time to plant if you live in the Southwestern US, Texas and other regions with very hot summer temperatures and mild winters. -  There is still time to plant in zone 6 & 7 but it’s getting late too in zones  4 and 5 (except for bulbs)  7. Fertilizing your lawn Fall is the best time to feed your lawn. A top dressing of fine textured compost and Yum Yum Mix is ideal.  Forget the chemical fertilizers and “Weed ‘n Feed” as they are detrimental to the soil and grass.  8. Apply Mycorrhiza to inoculate the roots If you live in a recently built subdivision or have a new house and the construction damaged your soils, be sure to spread Plant Success Mycorrhizal inoculants around your plants and over your new lawn. This will greatly improve plant health and vitality.
Yum Yum Mix Winterizer
Yum Yum Mix Winterizer
 9. Raking leaves Never mulch with whole leaves as they will mat and starve the soil of oxygen (those earthworms need to breathe).  If possible, rent or buy a shredder that will grind up your leaves into a coarse pieces.  Coarsely ground up leaves are a superb mulch and a great soil builder.  10. Relax and spend time in your garden doing nothing Hop on your hammock or sit out on your patio with a good book and enjoy the soothing beauty of the fall garden.