How to Get Your Garden Ready for Fall in Westchester

Tender evergreen shrubs, such as these boxwoods, are sheared on cloudy days to minimize the chance of leaf burn. Photos courtesy Sweet Clover Design

Landscape designer Max Apton of Sweet Clover Design in Mount Kisco shares his tips for prepping your garden for the colder months. 

Max Apton of landscape design business Sweet Clover Design originally began in the horticultural business as the Vegetable Field Manager for Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. He founded Sweet Clover Design to design and install ecological landscapes for homeowners countywide, with a specialization in vegetable gardens. Here he shares his expert tips on how to get your garden ready for the fall.

As the summer progresses, how should readers be prepping their gardens this month?

“August is typically what I refer to as a ‘shoulder’ season in the garden. It is a time when we’re able to enjoy the fullest expression of our beloved perennials and annuals while awaiting the cooler days when we resume planting. While we love the fullness of our gardens this time of year, it’s also the moment in the season when we’re most likely to see garden pests rear their ugly heads. This can be in the form of insects, weeds, or disease pressure. The best thing gardeners can do in August is to stay on top of deadheading flowers, cutting back diseased stems and branches, treating plants as necessary to mitigate insect and disease pressure and keep our garden beds tidy to prevent all those invasive weeds from going to seed.”

Flowering shrubs and perennials should be “deadheaded” regularly in advance of fall gardening. By cutting back spent flower heads, you can maintain the appearance of the shrub while encouraging more blooms.

What challenges came with this summer’s heavy rainfall, and how can readers combat these issues?

“It’s often said that a gardener should never curse the rain. One needs to experience just one summer drought to realize how true those words are. That being said, with heavy rain comes some challenges in the garden. First and foremost, seasons with lots of moisture create gardens that are extremely dense. And while a lush garden is certainly a beauty to behold, the restriction of free airflow in and around the plants often creates fertile territory for fungal diseases. Cutting plants back is always a worthy investment of time as it allows for more exchange of air throughout the garden. Heavy rainfall also has a way of bowling over our taller garden friends. Staking up fallen plants is another great way to keep things orderly and stave off disease.”

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Plants that have outgrown their space in the garden, such as this variegated carex, can be divided and moved around to fill out bare spots. Given plenty of water, these divisions should have no problem setting roots and re-growing. Just make sure to do your transplants on an overcast day.

What are some tasks readers can do themselves, and when should they call in the experts regarding prepping their gardens in August?

“Deadheading is the process of cutting off spent flowers to encourage the continued blooming of perennials and annuals. Not only is this an easy, enjoyable chore for the home gardener, but it’s also a great way to observe the growth and health of all your plants more closely. August is the time of year when we begin to notice the plants that have outgrown their space in the garden. Whether it be some enthusiastic lambs’ ears that have colonized more than their fair share of the garden bed or some grasses that have become overwhelming, now is the chance to make a plan of what you’ll be dividing and moving around come fall.

“Home gardeners would be wise to call in the pros when it comes to managing unknown disease or problem solving specific issues in the garden. Before taking shears to those unhappy roses or boxwoods, it’s good to know exactly what is affecting your plants. It can be easy to spread plant disease around your garden if you’re not careful. Home gardeners should also enlist the help of an expert as they begin considering their plans for fall planting. Want to add more late summer color? Want to plant some trees to hide or accentuate a particular view on the property? Best to ask a professional what would succeed given your particular needs and site conditions.”

Right: The beginnings of a rose fungal disease, likely black spot are best treated through the use of fungicides, minimizing overhead watering and promoting air flow. Left: Powdery mildew on the leaves of summer phlox can be controlled by cutting back infected foliage and/or spraying plants with a solution of hydrogen peroxide.

What types of plantings/flowers are trending right now?

“We are most commonly contacted by clients wishing to treat their gardens with the health of local ecosystems in mind. In practical terms, this means planting things that are largely native and offer food and/or habitat to native insects and birds. These plantings tend to be naturalistic in their appearance — somewhat wild and reminiscent of countryside meadows. We use a combination of grasses, shrubs and perennials to create pollinator gardens that offer staggered bloom times, four-season interest and, most importantly, valuable resources to our local birds and bees.”

potted plants ahead of fall gardening season
Flower pots planted in spring with annuals are likely reaching the limits of their soils’ fertility. A general all-purpose fertilizer will help these plants continue on into fall.

What other advice can you offer to readers who want to prepare for fall gardening?

“Fertilizing is important this time of year. The layer of spring compost many gardeners spread in the spring has been feeding our plants all summer long. This time of year, plants can start to appear somewhat yellow or less vibrant than they did in early summer. A balanced, all-purpose fertilizer is a great way to give plants the extra push they need to thrive until the end of the season. We typically use organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion and Plant Tone, which is manure-based.”

Max Apton offers fall gardening tips
Sweet Clover Design founder Max Apton

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