At the first killing frost, when the growing season ends, it is time for the gardener to give attention to maintaining the various man-made features of his home landscape. Fall is a perfect time for this-cool weather, and no pressing need to hurry to some other task, make these jobs a pleasure.
Walls, Fences and Gateways-Fences made of wire should be checked for security. Many fences sag or are pulled out of shape by plants growing on them or for other reasons. Check for loose staples, broken wires, or rotting posts.
Wooden posts or braces may need repainting or treating to prevent rotting or destruction by termites.
Wooden fences of all types, including the stockade fence may need repainting or treating. Check for nails that are drawing out, due to heat and curing of the wood. This often happens where there are long days of hot sunshine. Painting is always necessary for wooden fences, and especially if the colors are a key part of the overall color scheme. Fall painting is recommended so that the “new” will weather off before spring. This prevents that glaring new look and the smell of fresh paint in the spring garden.
On trellises, check for loose or hanging vines. These should be clipped and confined to their structure because if they become loaded with snow or ice, the extra weight may easily break them down, or the structure on which they are climbing. Check and realign the espalier plants for the same reasons.
Check masonry walls for loose stones or mortar, and repoint if necessary.
Inspect the garden gates for sagging or dragging, oil the hinges, and make sure the latches are in good working order. A squeaking gate is not in any sense esthetic.
Terraces, Benches, Retaining Walls, and Walks– Loose paving stones are frequent offenders on terraces, and chipped paving is another. In terraces paved with combined materials, the length of durability varies, so the surface must be checked regularly.
Every gardener realizes the value of a comfortable seat in the garden. Keep benches and lawn chairs in good repair.
Retaining walls that hold the soil for changes in elevation can easily settle, crack, or get out of alignment. A major repair can often be prevented by early action. Fall is a good time to make repairs in retaining walls as any interfering plants may easily be moved.
The walks should be inspected as to construction and surface condition, and any necessary repairs made. Remove encroaching grass and weeds from the walks.
Steps can easily become hazardous. Perhaps they are not well designed in the first place, and you should consider replacing then. Good garden steps should have a slight riser (approximately five inches) and a broad tread that will accommodate a foot without crowding. Also, if properly designed, they will not break the natural stride of people using them.
Loose steps, or loose stones in steps, should be checked and repaired. Nothing detracts more from the pleasure of a garden than insecure footing.
Rock Gardens and Planter Walls– Fall is the time for repair or construction of dry masonry planter walls or rock gardens. Fortunate is the gardener who has the slope or rough terrain suitable for rockery development. Remove overgrown or underdeveloped plants. Replace or reset stones, and add new soil in preparation for next season. Replace and secure steps, realign stones to catch and hold moisture, or add new stones or soil. In planter walls where niches are filled with growing plants, check for displaced stones that might slip and fall, or that have been pushed out of alignment by the growing plants. Often a plant will dislodge a stone, causing all of its roots to be exposed or the soil to be lost. Either case might result in the death of the plant.
Pools, Fountains, and Other Water Features- Clean and repair the garden pool. For several reasons fall is the best time. Lilies can be repotted, ready to begin growth in the early spring. Plants will grow only protective leaves during the winter and these are below water and very short stemmed. The most important reason for fall cleaning, though, is that the fish spawn very early in the spring. If the pool is cleaned in the fall, the environment is perfect in the spring for both fish and plants. Many gardeners never have early lily blooms or new fish because they destroy both by spring cleaning of pools. Check and repair all mechanisms that keep any fountains in operation during the spring and summer seasons. Many fountains are turned off during winter, due to the cold temperatures, and some pools are drained for the same reason. Actually, pools need not be drained in the southern areas of Mid-America, but the water level should be kept constant.
Keep the bird bath in good repair and full of water for the birds.
Outdoor Grills and Fireplaces- Whether permanent or portable these need to be cleaned, repainted, painted or otherwise made ready for the winter. In the permanent fireplaces, check for loose firebrick, loose grill rods and rusty accessories. A good coat of stove paint will clean up the metal parts. It is also a good idea to put away all of the accessories for the grill or fireplace. Often these items have a way of becoming misplaced or disappearing.
Record Keeping-It is wise to catalog all of your jobs. Make garden notes for further reference, or reminders to do certain chores later. Make a note to remind yourself to recheck the grounds in late winter after the effects of freezing and thawing have passed.
by Rob H. Tucker