The autumn garden

Experts share seasonal tips

With fall officially in full swing, there is still much that can be accomplished in your garden, and measures that can be taken in your yard to ensure a healthy lawn in the spring. There are many varieties of plants and flowers that are still in their prime.

“Hearty hibiscus, garden mums, cone flowers and Black-eyed Susans are still going strong,” said Chris Fifo of Swift Greenhouses, Inc. in Gilman. “The Autumn Joy sedum is a really nice one in the fall.”

Some of the most popular plants and flowers sold locally are mums, cone flowers, sedums, pollinator plants (to attract bees and monarch butterflies) and ornamental grasses.

Fall is the time to start planting bulbs that will bloom in the spring. Tulip, hyacinth, crocus, daffodil, and narcissus bulbs are readily available in stores, and come packaged complete with planting tips. Bulbs should be put into the ground now through mid-October before their roots have a chance to freeze.

“You want to plant a bulb pointed side up, and about twice as deep as its size,” said Craig Carter, an employee at Earl May Nursery & Garden Center in Marshalltown.

September and October are the months to start composting.

“We had an early hot summer, and it magnified gardening problems,” Carter said. “I can’t tell you how many customers have come in and said they were not saving compost. Leaves are organic matter you want to put back in the soil.”

Mowing over leaves and collecting them in a mowing bag, thus breaking them down, results in finer, less space-consuming leaf fragments. These leaves can make a good mulch for perennial beds.

Autumn is also an ideal time to plant shrubs and trees, especially maple. This is because cooler weather allows roots to grow and develop without the strain of new leaves or fruit vying for nutrients. Choosing a location with full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil will maximize growing potential.

Once flower beds have endured harsh freezing temperatures of late fall, you still have options on what to do with the leftover foliage.

“I like to leave all the dead foliage during the winter — some people cut it off because it looks ragged — but it can provide cover and shelter for wildlife,” Fifo said. “Some of it will decompose, and then the rest you’ll clean up in the spring.”

Applying fertilizer and planting grass seeds can be done this time of the year.

“Phosphate-free fertilizer is the best, and ones that contain potash (mined or manufactured salts that contain potassium in water-soluble form) is good,” Carter said. “Nitrogen is good for lawns because it helps grass become more dense and greener. What you do now in the fall, will dictate how plants, flowers and lawns will look in the spring.”


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or