The most important thing we can do for the health of our landscapes, lawns and vegetable gardens is to keep the soil healthy and well fed. I'm dedicated to following organic gardening principles as best I can, so when gardening organically, I feed the soil to feed my plants. And I use a blend of 1/2 Yum Yum Mix (or Yum Yum Mix Winterizer) and 1/2 high quality compost. Spread 1/4 to 1/2" across the top of the soil, either scratched or watered into the surface of the soil and covered with mulch. (Spread the fertilizer mix first, then mulch.)
The soil has a vibrant and complex underground ecology of flora and fauna that will digest this organic food and release it into the soil for plant roots to absorb when they need it.
And most importantly, swear off the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicide laden "Weed-n-Feed" fertilizers, as they are harmful to the soil, damaging to the environment and detrimental to the long term health of your plants!
Mulching is an essential practice in arid climates. In parts of the country where natural precipitation is more than 25 inches annually, mulching is not as important. Long-term use of mulch in moist climates may actually create problems by providing moist habitat for slugs, earwigs and root diseases.
But in dry regions, mulching will:
Protect the soil's moisture from being evaporated by the sun and wind.
Provide a more favorable root growing environment by insulating them from extreme temperatures.
Act as a passive rain harvesting mechanism to help hard, fast rains be absorbed by the soil (especially true when using gravel mulch).
I favor pine needles, small diameter crushed gravel, coarse composted bark, crushed nut shells (if locally available) and clean wheat or barley straw in my vegetable garden. Mulch should be replenished in the fall and again at the start of summer. And don't forget to put down some compost and Yum Yum Mix before you mulch.
3. Plant spring flowering bulbs
A drift of daffodils at the Denver Botanic Garden
To enjoy a beautiful display of tulips, daffodils and other spring blooming bulbs, you need to plant these bulbs now. I like to wait until the leaves are starting to come off the trees and there has been a frost or two to plant my bulbs. So now is an excellent time over much of the country. Keep a bucket of soil mixed with Yum Yum Mix Winterizer (or regular Yum Yum Mix) and high quality compost by your side to put a handful of nutrients into the planting hole for each bulb. Water in thoroughly and apply a one-inch thick layer of mulch to tuck them in for the winter.
And don't forget to take some photos of your bulbs in the spring to create a photographic map to help you remember where to plant more bulbs the following fall.
4. Wait to do clean up until spring
I know many tidy gardeners grit their teeth when I say "wait until spring to cut back your perennials and ornamental grasses." But neatness aside, it's important for your garden's ecology to leave the stems and leaves standing until mid-spring.
Sedum with frost on seedheads
Beneficial insects, butterflies and moths have laid their eggs on the stems and grass blades of your plants and need to be undisturbed until they hatch in spring.
Many perennials and ornamental grasses provide beautiful winter color and texture with their seed heads, leaves and faded flowers.
Leaving the stems on improves the cold hardiness of perennials and improves their ability to overwinter without damage.
In windy climates, standing stems help to capture blowing snow and improve the soil's moisture levels for next year's growing season.
5. Plant perennials
Fall is an ideal time to plant and get a big head start on next year's growing season. - For regions of the country that have mild winters (USDA zone 7 or warmer) and hot summers, this is especially true. In fact, for the Southwestern US, TX. the Southeast, the West Coast and the Pacific NW, now is THE BEST time to plant. And it saves water too.
In colder climates (USDA zone 6 and colder) fall is also excellent for planting.
For zones 3-6, a general rule of thumb is to finish your fall planting 6 to 8 weeks before the soil begins to freeze. In USDA zone 5, the soil begins to harden with frost around the end of November/mid-December, so fall planting needs to be done this week! But in zones 6 and warmer, you can keep going later in the fall.
But not all perennials like fall planting. Those that need a long stretch of hot summer weather to mature their crown and grow deep roots (such as Lavender, Agastache, Salvia greggii (and greggii hybrids) and Desert Willow) should ideally wait until spring.
Agastache 'Blue Fortune' is a European hybrid hyssop known for is vigor, cold hardiness, and adaptability to grow across much of the US. Blue Fortune Hybrid Hyssop's powder blue flower spikes are highly attractive to bees and butterflies.
Flower Kisser™ Coral-Pink Salvia (Sage) has eye-catching non-stop coral-pink flowers, starting in late spring and continuing into the fall. A medium sized woody shrublet that loves poor soils and hot, dry growing conditions.
The Butterfly Paradise Pre-Planned Cottage Garden will create a relaxed cottage style perennial garden. Planting masses of nectar-rich flowers magnifies their visual impact and appeal to pollinators, helping butterflies find your garden. Flowers will multiply and spread year after year, offering bold blooms from late spring to late summer. Large garden of 30 plants covers 40 sq ft, small garden of 16 plants covers 40 sq ft.
Plant our drought resistant Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Panned Garden to grow more flowers and foliage while using less water. Perfect for hot, dry, sunny gardens, this eye-catching combination of long-blooming perennials will light up the landscape with bright, clear colors. Easy-care plants feature inedible foliage that keep rabbits and deer away. Large garden of 27 plants covers 190 sq ft, small garden of 18 plants covers 100 sq ft. (For gardeners in coastal CA, OR, and WA, plant the Jumbo Waterwise Pre-Planned Garden For The West Coast)
Agastache Kudos Mandarin (Hummingbird Mint or Hyssop) has showy, bright-orange flowers on short flower spikes which are highly attractive to hummingbirds. Its compact size and bushy habit gives it a neat and tidy appearance, while it blooms from early summer through September.
Red Birds in a Tree is a rare perennial from the southern mountains of New Mexico and Arizona. It blooms all summer with spires of small red, white-lipped flowers that resemble a flock of red birds perched on a tree branch.
Commonly known as Poppy Mallow or Wine Cups, Callirhoe involucrata is a native wildflower that decorates the garden with a summer-long display of bright magenta-pink flowers. A sprawling grower, Callirhoe involucrata's long branches spread out across the ground to create a colorful mat of flowers and foliage. Drought resistant perennial plant (xeric).