A Dozen Things to Do This Fall—and One Big Don't
1. If you live in a non-tropical clime, pot up your impatiens, 'annual begonias' (they can actually live as long as tuberous begonias if cared for the same way) and pepper plants and bring them inside before nighttime temperatures drop below 40 degrees; these plants are all long lived perennials if protected from frost. Give pepper plants the strongest light possible once indoors. The shade-loving flowers will do fine in any somewhat sunny windowsill—as long as it's well insulated against nighttime cold. (For more details, read this previous Q of the Week.)
2. Rinse off those pepper plants—and any overwintering houseplants—with sharp streams of water before you bring them inside. Yes, you will get wet (dress appropriately), but laser-like blasts of water are the best way to get rid of aphids and other hitchhiking pests before they can come inside and multiply. (For more details, read this previous Q of the Week.)
3. Move outdoor plants inside gradually, over a period of several days, to prevent shock and leaf loss. Make sure their new home has plenty of light, isn't too close to heating vents or radiators and has modern, well-insulated windows.
4. In the winter, don't feed indoor plants other than potted citrus (see this previous Q of the Week for details on indoor citrus care). And water indoor plants very lightly over winter. Indoor plants (other than citrus) can't process food in the winter and use much less water than plants in summer—unless your house is very dry; then you can water more frequently. (Always judge water needs by the weight of the pot; light pots need water; heavy pots need you to find something else to do.)
5. Hang suet feeders all around your garden and landscape; especially in fruit trees and trees (like ash) that are under attack by borers in many regions. Suet attracts meat-eating birds like chickadees, wrens and woodpeckers that prey on some of the worst insect pests. And those suet feeders will encourage your predatory pouncers to nest nearby, insuring that they'll be around when the bad bugs wake up in the Spring. (See this previous Q of the Week for lots more details on good birds.)
6. Protect edible bulbs like tulips and crocus from Evil Squirrels! When you plant your Spring bulbs—which should be done after Halloween in all but the coldest regions—be sure to completely clean up the wrappers and other 'bulb trash' that would otherwise lead Evil Squirrels right to your underground treasures. Then spray the bed with deer repellant. Or take the advice of our old friend Sally Ferguson who promotes Spring bulbs for Longfield Gardens and brush your dog overtop of the bed and/or mulch the bed with collected dog hair (no dog? Visit a local vet and ask them to save fur for you!). The smell of dogs is a great way to keep Evil Squirrels at bay. (For lots more squirrel-foiling tricks, see this previous Q of the Week.)
7. Don't feed Evil Squirrels! Humans who deliberately feed squirrels create problems for themselves and every other gardener in their neighborhood. And if you MUST feed birds seed over the winter (I do suet only), make sure the feeder is squirrel-proof. (Unless you also want to invite mice and rats to the party.)
8. If you haven't planted garlic yet, do it soon! See this previous Q of the Week for details.
9. If you have a cool-season lawn and haven't fed it yet, do it soon. See this previous Q of the Week for details.
10. Plant pansies now for blooms that will last through the holidays in even the coldest regions—and all the way into July in places that have—or get—mild winters. Save old Christmas tree branches and use them for springy protection when and if heavy snow or ice storms are predicted. (Remove the protection after the weather event is over.) And be sure to pick and eat lots of the pansy flowers—they're a great natural source of rutin, a nutrient that can prevent and/or reverse the visible effects of spider and varicose veins. (Pansy flowers also make a 50-cent salad look like a million bucks.) See this previous Q of the Week for lots more raving about the power of pansies.
11. If you're planning on buying a truly live Christmas tree—a balled and burlaped specimen that you'll plant in the ground after the holidays—dig the planting hole now. If you don't, it's virtually guaranteed that your soil will be frozen hard from December to March 26th and/or that the weeks after Christmas will feature endless ice and snow storms. Dig a wide hole, not a deep one, in an area that gets sun on all sides and has room for the skirt to grow without bouncing off of your house and/or other plants. Cover the hole with plywood, store the removed soil where it won't freeze and read our article on tree planting before you try and put that poor puppy in the ground.
12. Plant new trees and shrubs now. The survival rate for big plants installed in the Fall is much better than if they were planted in the Spring. And you can get some great discounts at this time of year. Just be sure to read our article on proper tree planting first.
13. (It's a baker's dozen; OK?!) Do NOT prune anything now. Pruning stimulates new growth, which can prove fatal to plants as temperatures plummet. Allow your plants to go fully dormant before you even consider cutting. In general, you should prune big trees in the dead of winter; prune summer bloomers in the Spring; and prune Spring bloomers AFTER they finish flowering. If you're unsure of when to prune, don't prune!