17 Last-Minute Fall Garden Projects

Head outdoors to savor autumn’s cooler days and tackle a few fall gardening tasks.

September 04, 2019

Photo By: Greenstreet Gardens

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Photo By: Gardener’s Supply Company

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Gardener’s Supply Company

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: New York Apple Country

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Photo By: State Arboretum of Virginia

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Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Fiskars

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Pick Your Pumpkins

Whether you grow them or visit a local farmstand, fall is the time to pick your pumpkins. The saying “frost on the pumpkin” is just that — and definitely not a guide to pumpkin harvest or display. Pumpkins that experience frost don’t last as long. Another risk to early rot is a broken stem, so avoid carrying pumpkins by the stem.

Make a Gourd Vase

Draft a classic autumn icon as a vase for the last of your garden gleanings. A small pumpkin, turban squash or gourd easily hosts a blend of blooms. This display features boldly tinted coleus leaves with a pop of lantana blooms. To create a pumpkin vase, start with a flat-bottomed fruit that rests evenly on a surface. Remove the stem end and seeds. Insert a saturated block of floral foam or a water-filled jar and add fresh stems.

Put Leaves to Work

Portable and reasonably priced, an electric leaf shredder transforms fall’s abundant leaves into a nice mulch or easily composted material. You’ll make quick work of leaves with a shredder like this one, which offers a 16:1 shredding ratio, condensing 16 traditional yard waste bags of leaves into one.

Take Cuttings

Before frost arrives, take cuttings of favorite plants, like coleus, plectranthus or scented geraniums. Stem tip cuttings from these plants root easily to allow you to overwinter starts for next year’s containers. Also take cuttings of herbs like pineapple sage, Greek basil, mint and basil to root in water and transplant into pots to grow garden fresh flavors on your windowsill.

Fill the Feeders

Get out your birdfeeders before cold weather arrives. Hanging them before natural food sources are gone gives birds a chance to find the feeders and become accustomed to visiting. Just be sure to keep feeders filled once you start. Birds are creatures of habit, and species that winter in place will frequent the same feeder throughout the cold season.

Plant a Cool Season Container

Fill a pot with flowers and plants that thrive in autumn’s cool air. Sweet alyssum, pansy and snapdragon all blossom strongly during chilly days. Many grasses and grass type plants (like carex) — both the perennial and annual types — hold their own as temps start to tumble. Count on grasses to add texture and/or an upright element to cold weather container gardens.

Pick a Peck of Apples

Head out to a local orchard to enjoy apple picking on a crisp fall day. You may not want a peck, but once you discover that apples tucked in a refrigerator drawer last for weeks, you may want to pick more apples than you need for fresh eating and preserving. Many orchards also sell seconds: blemished fruits that are ideal for sauce or crumble. Snatch these up at a discount price and focus your picking efforts on picture-perfect apples for fresh eating.

Go Big With Bulbs

Try your hand at planting swaths of daffodils that naturalize or spread on their own. Naturalizing bulbs multiply over time to create stunning displays. Companies sell daffodil varieties known for naturalizing, although different types do better in different regions. Some reliable naturalizers include ‘Fortune,’ ‘Ice Follies’ and ‘Dutch Master.’

Grow Some Garlic

Plant garlic bulbs in fall for a harvest the following midsummer. Aim to get bulbs in the ground 4 to 8 weeks before the soil freezes. Mulch the planting area with a thick layer of straw or chopped leaves. Get your mulch on before the ground freezes. This keeps soil warmer longer so roots can sink into soil.

Find a Corn Maze

Visit a local corn maze on a pretty fall day to savor the sunshine and have fun wandering through the great outdoors. Corn mazes are fun projects to tackle with your favorite little ones. Just be sure you don’t take on too long a hike for little legs.

Plant Shrubs and Trees

You can plant shrubs and trees right up until the ground freezes, but you’ll have better overwintering in coldest zones if you get plants in before a hard frost. This gives plants an opportunity to strike new roots into soil before serious cold arrives. Remember to water fall planted additions to your landscape until the ground freezes. In regions with mild winters where the ground doesn’t freeze, plan to water new plants through winter during dry spells.

Check Out Fall Color

Take advantage of warm and sunny fall afternoons to discover trees with outstanding fall color at a local arboretum or botanic garden. A local arboretum is an ideal place to learn what a tree’s mature form and size is in your region. This golden scene is from a grove of 300 gingko trees at Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, Virginia, which is part of the State Arboretum of Virginia.

Grab Your Binoculars

As leaves fall from trees, it’s a great time to do a little birdwatching. Many botanic gardens and nature reserves offer birdwatching outings in fall. Search state park listings online to learn about opportunities in your area.

Save Seeds

Troll through your garden looking at seedheads and collecting the wealth at hand. Seeds make great gifts and are versatile beyond restocking your own garden. Consider using homemade seed packets as Thanksgiving place setting cards, stocking stuffers, inclusions in holiday mailings or hostess gifts.

Tackle Weeds

Get a jump on next year’s weeds by tackling cool season weeds this fall. Good weeds to hone in on include dandelion, creeping sorrel or plantains.

Gather Season Extenders

Round up and inventory your season extending gear — well before you need it. Frost blankets don’t last indefinitely, especially when exposed to cold snaps that include snow and ice. Make sure you have what you need on hand to protect fall crops from frosty nights.

Consider Grasses

Ornamental grasses are stars of the fall landscape. Their height, texture and movement add interest that extends well beyond fall into winter. Take note of grasses that catch your eye this fall. Look for examples at botanic gardens or nurseries with display gardens. If you’re unsure if a grass’s height fits in your landscape, use a tall stake or tomato cage to represent the grass in planting beds. That three-dimensional stand-in can help you visualize how a grass would look.

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