After the very hot summer, fall is a welcome relief. The night air is getting cooler, days are getting shorter and we cram all gardening tasks in all available free time we have on weekdays and more on weekends. Though I miss the autumn splendor that Mother Nature gives to northerners, I enjoy the long growing season down here in the lowcountry.
We still have lots of chores ahead of us to get the garden prepared for winter.
Fertilizer: Fertilizer should be discontinued till Spring. Fertilizer encourages new growth which will be killed when the first frosts occur. This loss of energy will reduce the energy stores of the bushes that are needed to help the plants survive over winter.
Mulch: After cleaning the rosebeds, put more compost around the bushes and then apply new mulch on the rosebeds. Aerate the soil before you put down the mulch. Just poke the tine of your pitch fork into the bed. Mulch helps to conserve moisture, suppresses weed growth and helps maintain the soil temperature. In this part of the country, the favorite is pine straw. However, I use cedar mulch. I find it easier to clean the bed with cedar mulch on it.
Planting: While spring is the traditional season for rose planting, fall is also an excellent time to add roses to the garden. Fall planting will give your roses a head start to establish their root system before the winter sets in and in the spring with a healthy and established root system in place, your roses will take off faster than those planted in the spring. If you plan to share and give your roses to friends, make sure you plant the fragrant varieties. There is no sense planting the roses for their form alone. Fragrant roses to me are still the best. No offense to die-hard exhibitors.
Pruning/Deadheading: Stop pruning your roses. Pruning roses sends a signal to the plant to initiate new growth. Only remove the petals to help signal the plant to go into dormancy. Keep some rose hips for winter interest. It is a great food source for the birds and keeps them in your garden ready to do their work in spring to get rid of bad insects from your garden.
Soil Testing: Fall is a good time to test your soil to check the pH. Take some soil sample from different locations in your garden and bring it to Cooperative Extension Service or ask your local nursery where to send it.
Spraying: Continue your spray program. If you want perfect blooms and foliage, you have to continue your spray program to control insects and diseases. Do not spray insecticides until you see some insects. Follow manufacturer's directions for safety. At this time, you might see some spider mites. Check the underside of the leaves for spider mites. If it feels grainy and the lower leaves lose their color and small webs appear with the leaf fall, you probably have spider mites. A good blast of water every two or three days might work. If not, a miticide might be the next remedy.
Add Spring Color: Browse through the garden catalogs and look for fabulous colors of spring bulbs to add to your rose garden. There are spaces between your roses that can accommodate these spring beauties without competing with your roses. By the time the roses come into bloom the spring flowers will be gone. When planting spring bulbs, make sure you sprinkle cayenne pepper to keep the squirrels away. Every fall, I used to add more spring bulbs in the garden around my roses and practically everywhere I can find a space so that in the spring the garden will come to life early. After I plant my bulbs, I add more compost. Last year, I added some tulips in my garden. Not all of them came up but I’m learning that in Zone 8, you have to pre-cool them first to get them to bloom.
Water: Don't forget watering. You do not want to send your roses to bed thirsty. Roses need 2 inches of water every week to avoid stress so if it does not rain, you have to put the sprinklers on. Water early in the morning so leaves will be able to dry before nightfall. Deep watering is best otherwise the little feeder roots on the plant will grow toward the surface seeking moisture.
Weeding: Continue weeding. Watch for the weed which germinates in the fall. They grow slowly in the winter and then bloom and set seeds in the spring. Pulling them out now will prevent a new generation of weed come spring. As I weed, I clean the beds at the same time. Cleaning up your garden of weeds and leaves infected with blackspot, downy mildew and other diseases is a must. Though it is time consuming, these infected leaves will harbor diseases in your garden during the winter, and come spring, you'll have more problems. Discard them in the trash. Do not add them to your compost pile. Start cleaning up the garden now before the weather gets freezing cold. Rid the garden of diseased leaves so fungi cannot overwinter in your rosebeds. After I clean the rosebeds, I put more compost around the bushes.
Take advantage of the mild weather that remains to start a compost pile from the falling leaves. Oak leaves are the best. If you have a lawn mower/shredder, run over the lawn a couple of times. You can even spread the shredded oak leaves on your garden beds. Do not use maple leaves; they tend to mat. Instead put them in the compost heap.
After all these things are done, you can rest easy with the knowledge that your garden is ready for their winter nap.
Cut roses to bring indoors. Enjoy the last blooms of the season indoors as well as out in the garden. Never mind that the bushes have lost most of their leaves to blackspot, just enjoy them. STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES!!!
Roses are not difficult to grow contrary to popular belief as long as you know what they need. Why do you think Roses have been around for millions of years? All they need are food, water and sunlight. Just like you and me.
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