Fall is perfect for landscaping

11/16/2010 8:19 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Canel Landscaping owner Manuel Canel spreads mulch in a Jamesport client’s garden last week. He says fall is a good time to get rid of weeds and make plans for next year’s plantings.

Landscaping and gardening tend to be associated with springtime, but local gardeners say fall is a great time to do a lot more than just rake the leaves.
“There’s some essential cutting back to do right now,” said Manuel Canel, owner of Jamesport-based Canel Landscaping. “Cut your perennials down — but no less than eight inches above the ground. Prune trees now as well.”

Mr. Canel recommends fall pruning because the shape of the plant or tree is easier to see when the leaves are gone. Taking action in the fall also allows the spring growth cycle to take place uninterrupted, he said.
“Some people leave their perennials so that birds can enjoy the seed heads,” said Polly Dixon of Polly Dixon Landscape Design in Greenport. “But some perennials like peonies really must be cut back.”
Ms. Dixon also recommends thoroughly mulching around perennials.
“It prevents frost heaves, which is what happens when the soil freezes and thaws,” she said. “Mulching keeps the soil warm and also prevents too early a thaw.”
Ms. Dixon recommends natural cedar mulch, saying, “It breaks down well.”
Mr. Canel also wants to remind gardeners to winterize rose bushes by not only cutting them back but wrapping them in burlap. And, says Ms. Dixon, ornamental grasses can be cut back now “but if you don’t get around to it now, do it in February. You’re really putting the garden to bed when you do these things.”
Composting, too, is a fall task. “You can use leaves,” said Ms. Dixon. “But maple, which we have a lot of out here, won’t compost well. Oak and birch are better if you have them.”
Mr. Canel also suggests a good weeding of the garden before winter sets in. Ms. Dixon agrees. “Especially the crabgrass,” she said.
Besides lulling the garden into its winter sleep by cleaning up, weeding, pruning and wrapping, there are other tasks that gardeners can undertake this month. Both landscapers think November is a great time to plan a new garden, for a variety of reasons.
“You can see the real shape of the garden once the growth has died back a little,” said Mr. Canel. Ms. Dixon says that once the leaves have disappeared, any glaring gaps that need to be filled will be much more obvious.
The bare bones of the garden may also inspire the creation of a new garden bed or the enlargement of one you already have. Fall is a good time to dig and add mulch and compost, leaving the bed fallow until spring.
Without the summer flora, projects like re-graveling the paths or painting the fence may present themselves more readily. In anticipation of spring, now might also be a good time to build a trellis or a gazebo.
But the major benefit of a bare garden is that it may encourage the gardener to experiment with new plants and shrubs.  
“This is a great time to plant shrubs and perennials,” said Mr. Canel. “You can also plant spring bulbs like cyclamen, daffodils and tulips usually right up until the end of November.”
“In Suffolk County, fall is by far the best time to plant because we usually have a long, mild fall with more reliable rain,” said Ms. Dixon. “The big strain for plants is summer, but in the fall new plants are past spending energy growing leaves or producing flowers. Now they’re doing most of their work underground, establishing a strong root system.”
Ms. Dixon counsels that November can be “a little iffy, although we tend not to get a hard freeze until much later on in winter.”
There are also financial reasons to plant at this time of year.
“Local nurseries often have steeply discounted perennial plants for sale,” said Ms. Dixon. “They may look a little tired now, but come spring you’ll really be rewarded with that strong root system.”
As for a final tip, “Don’t forget to shut off the water and unhook your hoses,” said Mr. Canel.