COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: One garden ends, time to plant another

The first week of September is not the time to throw in the trowel and think about the end of the garden season. September in our area means the start of a second spring, when new gardens can be planted and lawns refurbished and renewed; it’s the perfect time to dig in to new landscape projects.

The real dirt on fall gardening is that as the nights begin to cool the roots of summer-weary plants begin to grow, so adding new plants or establishing a new lawn in September is at the root of a successful makeover.

September is also my favorite month for outdoor living – mostly dry days with a crisp crack of cool air that starts to roll in by afternoon. Plus the summer vacations, summer visitors and summer demands of watering and feeding vegetables and annuals are ending. There is finally time to actually sit on your patio furniture or garden bench and enjoy the Northwest garden at its peak.

But then it’s back to work. Here are some fall project ideas to get you growing.

Top 5 Ways to

Improve your Landscape this Fall

1. Score better yardage with fall field goals.

Wait until after a heavy rain, then aerate, add an inch of compost or topsoil, fertilize and reseed your lawn or bare spots in the month of September. Fall and winter rains will keep the new lawn growing.

Aerating the lawn is important after a dry summer as it encourages the winter rain to penetrate the soil. But don’t try to poke holes with just a hand tool. A core aerator that removes plugs of soil is best. You can rent an aerator machine and do the job yourself but only if you have a strong back. If you have a large lawn, this is a job I recommend hiring out to professionals.

2. Replace the dead, the ugly and the demanding shrubs in your landscape.

Are you enabling plants with a drinking problem? Taking up too much time pruning a fast-growing hedge? Or have you finally had enough of the sickly roses or mildew-prone phlox in the garden? No need to put up with rude plants when the nursery if full of shrubs that promise to behave. Dwarf conifers never need pruning, barberries come in many sizes, colors and form and thrive in poor, dry soil and, as for roses, you can try the disease-resistant shrub roses, or just replace your roses with raspberries, asters, spring bulbs or foliage shrubs. Fall is for planting.

3. Pimp out the patio

You can still pressure wash a dirty patio or restain an old deck and celebrate the improvement by buying new lawn furniture or fresh cushions because now is the best time to find outdoor gear on clearance sales at home center stores. How about an outdoor space heater or fire pit? Extend the summer season and evenings outdoors with the best deals ever on outdoor heaters, barbecues and patio lighting.

4. Redefine your borders and edgings.

Fall is a good time to cut a fresh edge into your lawn or establish a raised bed around your vegetables or flowers. Hardscaping projects such as stacking stone walls and building new pathways are rewarding to work on during crisp fall days. Plus you can’t kill a new hardscape and get to enjoy the results of your work all winter long. I am working on a new, English garden inspired brick wall. More about that later.

5. Paint in color.

If, like me, you didn’t get around to painting the house this summer (next summer, we really must get it done) you can still freshen up your exterior with new paint. Just paint the trim in a new shade or, better yet, add a splash of drama to your front door by painting it deep red or shiny black. Take a look at wooden benches, metal garden art and outdoor planters. Fall is a good time to prime and paint these garden focal points to protect them from winter weather. Don’t be shy about color; I love my blue bench, purple gate and black urns, but a can of spray paint is all I need to change them to a different hue. Monet used blue-green paint to dramatize the accents in his French garden and you can too.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

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column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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