Fall Perennial Gardening: Garden Design on a Budget
Fall is the best time of year for planning your perennial garden.
The plants are grown in or overgrown and you can easily see how they are working in your current design. You will notice which perennials need to be divided and see the empty spaces where new plants are needed. You can evaluate which plants aren’t in the right spots or those which need to be removed altogether.
The best part, however, is that fall garden planning can save you big bucks! Plants are either inexpensive or free (yup, free!) and when planted in the fall, you will be well on your way to a beautifully designed and low-maintenance garden next year!
Fall Garden Planning
Fall is the time of year to take stock in your perennial plantings and note what’s working and what’s not. Grab a notepad and pen and head out to the garden. Have a look at how the perennials are performing. Did they bloom? Did they get too tall and flop over? Did they die back too soon? Write down notes on what you see and jot down some notes about how they performed during the spring and summer as well.
Start with those plants that bloomed, looked healthy, survived and thrived. From these, you learned what works in your garden and your gardening habits. Habits? Yes, some plants might be perfectly suited for your space, but need more or less attention than you are able to give them. That’s nothing to feel guilty about; it’s an important lesson in designing the perfect garden for you!
Related: Garden Design Makeover in a Weekend
Right Plant Right Place
Since you have noted the thriving perennials, you now know a bit more about the various microclimates that exist in your garden. Now take a look at the plants that could be in the wrong places: Sun-loving perennials in shady spots will get tall, leggy, and flop over as they hunt for the sun. Shade lovers with too much sun will show sunburned tipped leaves.
Plants that are dying or dead could have root rot from poor drainage or they could have died of thirst in soils with too much drainage. Soil that is too acidic or alkaline could be the culprit (check your soil pH with this easy at home test!). Taking stock of those plants that didn’t perform well and researching their basic needs can help you determine if a move to a better spot in the garden will do them some good.
Now take a look at the discoloured, diseased, bug-chewed, non-blooming plants. What happened? Some have naturally died back for the year and that’s normal. In general, however, perennials that look a bit sickly need a little Horticultural CSI to figure out what went wrong.
Once you determine the cause, you can decide if want to try to treat the problem and try to improve its health, or if you should remove it all together. Personally, I’m not a big fan of large efforts fix plants with pests or disease. Instead, I treat the root cause and then replace the plant if that doesn’t take care of it.
Divide and Conquer
The least expensive way to build a lush perennial garden is to divide plants in your garden that do well. This, of course, costs you nothing except time. Budget-wise, dividing perennials is a free source of quality plants that you should absolutely take advantage of. And I don’t just mean the plants in your garden. Friends, family, and neighbors may also have plants that need dividing and they could be more than happy to send you home with a clump or two.
You can also check online sources such as Craigslist or local Facebook communities and post a wish list of perennials you want, or list what you have to give away. Garden clubs and community gardens may also have plenty of extra perennials floating around so don’t be afraid to ask around.
A note about free plants that should be mentioned: plants may come with weeds, pests, and/or disease as an unwanted bonus gift. Inspect all plants thoroughly and wash off the soil from the roots. Plant the division in your garden soil to reduce the chance that anything will be transferred to your garden. Some pests that hitch a ride are simply annoying, while others (like fire ants) can be down-right devastating. It’s important to not only trust the source but do the work to make sure you aren’t getting more than you bargained for.
Now Go Shopping!
The beauty of the fall (besides the turning leaves and abundance of fresh food) is that perennials go on sale. I mean markdowns-that-make-you-question-if-you-are-stealing-plants kind of sales. The garden centers and nurseries are likely closing for the year soon, and even if they are not, it makes a lot more sense to markdown plants and send them to new homes than tend to them in pots for another year.
They are usually past blooming so look for healthy-looking leaves, evidence of past blooms, overall root health, and no signs of pests. Read the plant labels to make sure they will thrive in the spots you have available and pack your shopping cart with bargains. These may not look like much planted in the garden now, but next year you will have a strong, established plant that will fill in faster than their spring-planted counterparts.