Autumn chores: From pruning to prepping, fall is a surprisingly busy time in the garden - Albuquerque Journal

Autumn chores: From pruning to prepping, fall is a surprisingly busy time in the garden

Rick Hobson says pansies, which provide a welcome burst of color, like the cooler temperatures of autumn. Hobson says fall is also a great time to plant grass, trees and shrubs. (Courtesy of Rick Hobson/Jericho Nursery)
Rick Hobson says pansies, which provide a welcome burst of color, like the cooler temperatures of autumn. Hobson says fall is also a great time to plant grass, trees and shrubs. (Courtesy of Rick Hobson/Jericho Nursery)

A little gardening this fall pays bigger dividends than the same amount of work in spring.

“My daffodils really pop,” says Suzy Andrego, a master gardener for 20 years and state president of the New Mexico Garden Clubs. “My daffodils bloom from February through late April.”

Master gardener Suzy Andrego says to harvest pumpkins, gourds and winter squash after the first frost, usually the last week of October in Albuquerque. (Courtesy of Rick Hobson/Jericho Nursery)
Master gardener Suzy Andrego says to harvest pumpkins, gourds and winter squash after the first frost, usually the last week of October in Albuquerque. (Courtesy of Rick Hobson/Jericho Nursery)

Her fall ritual for daffodil bulbs includes feeding them, planting more varieties and separating existing bulbs to add to her garden array.

She cleans the beds, adds a layer of compost and later broadcasts Epsom salts – chores spread out over several weeks beginning in September. She recommends planting all spring blooming bulbs by Halloween. She continues planting perennials, like chrysanthemums, until the ground freezes.

She says she digs up more tender bulbs and roots like those of gladiolus, cannas and bird of paradise and stores them for next year. Dahlias and canna roots go into sand, while gladiolus can winter over in a paper sack.

Fall is also a prime time for planting trees.

Cold-weather crops

Master gardeners say fall garden attention helps all kinds of plants, like daffodils, produce more abundantly. Feed, trim and separate daffodil bulbs into other garden space. (Courtesy of Suzy Andrego)
Master gardeners say fall garden attention helps all kinds of plants, like daffodils, produce more abundantly. Feed, trim and separate daffodil bulbs into other garden space. (Courtesy of Suzy Andrego)

Andrego, who loves and cares for all kinds of flowers, has chores lined up until well after the first expected frost, usually the last week of October.

So does Brad Weikel, president of ABQ Urban Homesteaders, but his ambition for autumn is to plant enough kale and other cold-weather vegetables to last through the winter.

“My big goal is to have kale year round. If you plant it in a cold frame you can definitely stretch it into January and February,” Weikel says. “Last year we lost our kale in December. We were so disappointed. We had to go the rest of the winter without kale (from our garden).”

Weikel says creating a cold frame to extend the growing season, especially if winter isn’t too cold, is as easy as recycling an old window over a wooden frame that allows plants at least eight inches of growing room: “You leave a cold frame open during the day and close it at night.”

He also plans to plant other greens, spinach, broccoli and snow peas. Early autumn is also a great time to start mint and lavender, he says. He also divides and replants his strawberries.

Early September is a great time to seed cool weather grasses, like fescue or bluegrass. It’s a little early to prune trees, but he keeps an eye on his fruit trees and puts a twist tie on branches that need attention. When all the leaves have dropped and several freezes push the sap down, he trims the troublesome branches.

Making plans

Weikel is not much into flowers, except that they keep bees happy, so he plans to broadcast wildflower seeds. Many flowers become established more easily in spring after having a winter for the seeds to settle and germinate.

Both gardeners say September is a perfect time to evaluate their landscape for new and improved ideas. Cleaning out the garden lets them decide if plants are placed in the best spots. Weikel, a permaculture enthusiast, says he doesn’t turn the soil because that would destroy the living microcosm in the organic matter.

Both gardeners like to use fallen leaves to mulch their garden beds.

Andrego says autumn right after the New Mexico State Fair, where she shows her roses, is ideal for planting. Plants and shrubs, like roses, have time to establish roots without having to endure summer heat.

Peonies, which are mostly finished blooming by mid-May, also like a fall head start for planting. She cautions to only remove spent roses and unwieldy canes from roses, saving the pruning of those until April.

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