Have you ever been away for a couple of weeks? You come home and somehow the place seems different? You notice things you haven’t seen in a while, and frankly, you find yourself just a little bit critical.
Well, that’s often the case with gardeners in fall. Early frosts encourage us to remove the rest of our summer annuals and perennials, and while we’re out there, we mulch the fallen leaves. We get things all tidied up, and we see things we didn’t see a couple of weeks earlier — things we now know we want to change.
I’ll offer my list from our own yard for starters. These are what I found over the past several days. You can let them serve to get your mind running.
▪ Shrubs that have become a little misshapen. They’ve crowded into one another. Some became crowded by my large pots filled with tall annuals. In any event, some of my shrubs are bizarre looking now that they’re back out on their own. I’ve already done some limited reshaping. I’m contemplating a more major attack with the shears come mid-winter.
▪ Shrubs that need to be replaced. A few of my smaller shrubs are so misshapen that I don’t think pruning can save them. Two others, both dwarf shrubs, were overtaken by tall annual plants that kept sprinklers from hitting them. They actually died over the summer and I never noticed them. I’ll need to replace those.
▪ The bare spots have grown larger and a few more have cropped up. Such is the case when you have shade trees around you. The grass retreats, and all the love and attention you can push toward it won’t be enough to get grass to grow. I’m planning on planting several more small beds of ground covers. I’ll be planting wintercreeper euonymus into a couple of areas yet this fall.
▪ It was time for a new deck. This is a project we actually accomplished a few weeks ahead of the fall cleanup. Our old redwood deck had been riddled with carpenter bees after 25 years. It wasn’t fit for foot traffic — someone was going to fall through. We opted for one of the manmade composites installed by a company I’ve known about for many years, and that’s our big project accomplished for this calendar year. We love our new deck. It’s fun to be able to get back outside to enjoy it.
▪ Sprinkler repairs are in the near future. Once you get the summer plants out of the way you can begin to see where sprinkler heads were damaged by children, pets and even rodents. Sometimes they’re snapped by a garden hose or mower wheel. Whatever the cause, the fact is that they loosen, get out of alignment, or turn up missing entirely. Fall is a great time to repair them. It’s much more pleasant to do so now than it will be in winter.
▪ Bed preparation. It was really dry when we took the frost-damaged plants out of our beds. We’d been running the sprinklers, but the ground was working at such a deficit that any rain that did fall was quickly absorbed. And with that dry soil I could also see that there wasn’t a lot of organic matter left in the ground.
The fact is, organic matter oxidizes with age — it decays. It takes shredded tree leaves and composted cotton burs only a couple of months essentially to disappear from the soil. Compost and sphagnum peat moss are good for a year or two. Finely ground pine bark mulch lasts for two or three years. You get the picture — you have to replace the organic matter on a regular basis.
▪ As you work in your yard yet this fall, you can vividly remember which rooms in your house were the hottest — where you most needed the shade. Perhaps this is the year you might want to add a new shade tree. Study your yard carefully. Determine how much room you have. Think about underground utilities and overhead power lines and whether the tree might grow to encumber them. Ask your Texas certified nursery professional how tall and wide your chosen species will grow, and be sure that it will fit within its surroundings.
▪ I always look for trees and shrubs I need to relocate. I make mental note of them in the fall (now), because the safe time to move them will come in mid-winter while they’re totally dormant. I can start thinking about it all now. You’ll need to dig a ball of soil intact with the roots for your transplanting to be entirely successful. Prune to remove 30 to 40 percent of the top growth to compensate for roots lost in that digging.
▪ Finally, I make note of any tree branches that look like they might be damaged or dying, particularly if they hang over our house or garage. Decay continues on through the winter, and it’s amazing how much added weight comes from snow and ice on the branches. If you’re in doubt, hire a certified arborist to give your trees a good inspection once or twice annually. It’s a lot less expensive than repairing a house, and it might save a serious injury.