When most people think of gardening in autumn, the first image that comes to mind is probably raking seemingly endless piles of falling leaves. In reality, fall is a great time to garden in the Carolinas, when cooler temperatures are kinder on both the plants and the folks doing the planting! Here are just a few tasks that you can accomplish in the fall that will add to your autumn enjoyment and lay a foundation for a wonderful garden next spring and summer.
Plant a fall vegetable garden. Long after you harvest your last bumper crop of tomatoes, you will discover that there are many tasty vegetables that thrive well long into autumn. Plant these around August 1 to give them ample time to mature: cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and carrots as well as second crop of lettuce and spinach. Although there are lots of vegetables that can do well with a late summer planting, you may want to avoid those that are particularly susceptible to pests, such as squash and cucumbers, since insect infestations are actually worse in the fall. (Why? Because insect populations have had all summer to build up to much higher levels than we typically see here in the spring.)
Don’t forget the favorites. Traditional autumn flowering plants such as chrysanthemums, gerbera daisies, verbenas, asters and anemones can perk up your fading garden with a spectacular dose of fall color.
Divide perennials. Most perennials should be divided every three years. This is a great opportunity to spread the wealth by moving healthy, thriving plants to areas of your landscape that are looking a bit bare. It’s also a prime opportunity to trade divided plants with friends and neighbors to increase your yard’s diversity without spending a dime.
Plant spring bulbs. Late October and November are the ideal times to chart your garden's course for spring. Daffodils, tulips, crocuses and hyacinths are all hardy and traditional choices for spring color. Select firm bulbs and store them in a cool, dry place until you plant them.
Get a head start on herbs. Herbs are delicate and won’t live through a North Carolina frost, but if you start them in indoor trays in late fall or early winter, they will be ready to transplant into the garden in spring and you’ll be harvesting them in May.
Lay your groundwork. A layer of mulch provides the perfect finishing touch for your garden, but make certain that you apply it the right way. You don't want to layer more than three or four inches of mulch over your landscape, since deeper levels can cause problems. (Mulch that is too deep can have one of two effects: it can cause the soil to remain continuously wet, which contributes to root rot, or it can actually prevent water from penetrating into the soil, depriving your plants of needed resources.) You also want to keep mulch away from the base of trees of shrubs to avoid fungus issues.