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Tips for sprucing up your garden for fall

As colder weather approaches, gardening expert P. Allen Smith shows you how to keep color in your backyards this season.
/ Source: TODAY

Frosty mornings and cooler temperatures are here — time to spruce up your failing summer garden with some fantastic fall flourishes! “Today” contributing gardening expert P. Allen Smith has some ideas on bringing color and beauty into your garden as the days become shorter and the temperatures start to drop.

Season’s change
During the past decade the demand for hardier plants has driven plant breeders to work on improved cultivars that can take cooler temperatures. Many summer favorites are being breed to last up until fall frost. But do classic summer plants like geraniums and petunias really say “autumn” to you? When your flowerbeds, window boxes and summer containers start to look tired reach for some fall magic and switch out summer annuals for traditional fall flourishes. Perhaps leave that magnificent ornamental grass that is putting out feathery plumes but yank out the gaura that’s long, leggy and void of flowers and replace it with something that’s a little more autumnal.

Think outside the box
While mums are the traditional bloom of choice this time of year, there are many lesser known options available. Cool season sweethearts like nemesis add fragrance and charm to container combinations. Violas come in a range of splashy colors and are the petite compliments to more common pansies. Don’t forget “veg” — vegetation such as cabbage and kale can give a container that professional touch without adding higher maintenance blooms. 

Timely tips
Just because it’s cooler outside doesn’t mean that your plants don’t need to be watered. In fact, for trees, shrubs and perennials, being dry or dehydrated during the fall makes getting through the winter much more difficult. Continue watering and feeding until the plants go dormant or weather conditions prevent you from doing so.

When purchasing mums, look for plants that are heavily budded with soil that is moist — if a mum dries out the buds shrivel and won’t flower properly. 

Consider using frost proof containers or, if using terra cotta in the garden, spray the pots with water seal before planting. This will help keep the container from expanding and contracting and prolong cracking due to water seeping into pores or cracks in the pot. During fall, remove saucers from under pots once the threat of freezing arrives again to help prolong the life of your containers. 

Passion for pumpkins
Who says that you have to use flowers and foliage to dress up your fall displays? Pumpkins, gourds and winter squash are ideal accompaniment to containers or front doors or even window boxes.

With so many festive holidays this time of year, namely Halloween, Sukkot and Thanksgiving, using pumpkins in a festive display is a great way to bring the bounty of the garden to your front door.

When all is said and done
If you plant containers full of fall favorites that are perennial, meaning they return year after year, you should consider either (a) over-wintering the plants in containers to move into the garden in spring or (b) transplanting the perennials to new homes in the garden before the ground freezes.

Many people wonder if they should cut back perennial mums when transplanting them into the garden. One suggestion is to leave the foliage as an insulator through winter and spring and then, in July or when temperatures are quite warm, evaluate the plants. If they are close to a foot tall then cut them down to about four inches. This will help the plants to become stronger and bushier and, hopefully, provide you with a return of beautiful flowers when cooler weather rolls in again the following fall.

The time is now
Just think, if you spend a bit of your weekend now transforming your garden with a few of these fall flourishes then you can enjoy the results through Thanksgiving when it will be time to start thinking about the December holidays.

The bottom line: fall is a time to celebrate the season and have fun with the bounty of the garden and enjoy the amazing colors of autumn.