Novice gardeners may think autumn is a time of rest -- but not so. Less frenzied and exciting than the spring, it is nonetheless a period of important activity.
Perennial beds, rose bushes, small trees, and shrubbery all require attention to make it through the below-zero days ahead. Arguably, mulching is most vital now to protect root systems from harsh temperature fluctuations while retaining valuable moisture.
Fall is also the time to prune spring-flowering hedges and bushes, and to plant bulbs for spring blooms. Complete both tasks before the first hard frost.
Cut back perennial plants - dead stalks are unsightly and unnecessary. Rake loose and soggy leaves from the garden, which will decompose and can lead to rot.
Lay three to four inches of mulch around the plants, paying attention to the area above the roots.
Wide, full evergreen boughs and straw also provide excellent protection for perennial beds. Evergreen boughs are preferable, as straw tends to harbor weed seeds.
Roses should not be fed in the fall; give them their last meal in late August or early September.
Rose gardeners agree that the winter can be hard on the beauties. At the very least, pile about five inches of soil around the base of the bush to protect the graft union. Top this with mulch.
Some rose experts suggest digging a trench next to the bush that is as long as the bush is tall and filling it partway with straw. Next, loosen the root ball and push the rose bush on top of the straw. Pile dirt (from another part of the garden - do not pirate soil from the rose bed) and mulch over the rose bush.
In the early spring, stand the bushes upright and reposition the root ball. Prune any lifeless canes.
While some rose gardeners suggest cutting back the canes in the fall, most don't prune until spring. However, very long canes should be cut back to protect them from winter winds.
Trees and Shrubs
Small, recently planted trees need attention to survive a long, hard, cold winter. Wrap their trunks to the canopy with tree wrap or burlap (available at garden centers). Construct a metal screening guard around the trunks to keep rodents from gnawing on them.
Mulch around the tree to its drip point (circumference of the canopy). Mound the mulch to a depth of several inches.
Newly planted shrubs should be carefully mulched, too. Treat them similarly to small trees, piling mulch in a large circle around their base.
Established shrubs survive quite well, although if there is little rain or snow, can get thirsty. In particular, watch those close to the house where they are protected from weather. If the soil is dry, give them a good soaking.
Come spring, your garden will be ready for you. And will reward you with healthy plants that survived the winter extremely well.