In a normal time, all of us would be sending our kids back to school and returning to the office to our routines, but we all know these are not normal times. It remains to be seen if our kids will be able to stay in the classrooms and who knows when most of us will start commuting back to our jobs. That being said, it is highly likely that many of us will continue to work from home (with or without our kids) and consequently be forced to look at our gardens 24/7.  Whether you view this as a blessing or a curse of course depends on how much you love to garden. For those of you who still find pleasure in toiling in the dirt and fresh air, here are some tasks to fill your day that will improve the looks of your landscape immediately and into the future.

Lawns: Don’t wait for Mother Nature to resurrect your lawn.  It will naturally wake up as the nights grow longer and the temperatures grow colder, but helping this process along with some supplemental water and a bit of food will go a long way to getting it healthy again and ready for winter. Don’t put this chore off. Aerate, dethatch, reseed or start all over but get it done this month. Working on your lawn now will make a huge difference come spring.

Perennials: Mums and asters always come to mind when I think of fall bloomers, but there are many others that will bloom far into the fall such as Japanese anenomies, toad lilies, kafir lilies, ornamental grasses, and sedums, to name just a few. Garden centers are well stocked with these beauties and if planted now they will take off like rockets come spring. This is also a good time to divide perennials as well and share them with friends.

Bulbs: As crazy as it might sound, this is the month that spring blooming bulbs arrive at the garden center. Tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, and many other minor perennial bulbs are all available to plant now. It takes a bit of faith to plant a homely, mostly dead-looking brown bulb, but it is truly a lesson in delayed gratification and one you will totally appreciate come late winter and early spring.

Veggies: As you harvest your summer veggies, work some more compost and fertilizer into the soil, and replant with some fall crops.  The Botanical Interest Seeds company offers 10 varieties of veggies that will mature from seed within 60 days, which is plenty of time for us northwest gardeners. You can also plant transplants, which will mature even sooner. If you are not going to plant a fall garden then at least spread a layer of compost over the soil to keep the weeds down, or if your garden is large and you can rototill it come spring, then sow a cover crop.

Containers: My pots that I planted back in May are starting to look pretty tired, so it is time to rip out the plants, work in some new fertilizer, top off the soil and plunge in some fall color that will last the winter. There is a huge palette of plant material that is appropriate for late summer planting into containers — herbs, grasses, evergreen perennials, and small conifers are all finding their way into beautiful winter containers. Think about using foliage and texture rather than just flowers.  Containers planted in September will look fabulous all the way into April or May.  

Planting: While we can plant year around in the northwest, fall is one of the best times, so get your hardscaping done and your grading finished, and get those plants in the ground before Old Man Winter arrives.  

Roses: If you deadhead and fertilize, you should be able to coax one more flush of blooms before winter. Morning dew spells mildew on roses, so stay ahead of diseases with timely applications of either natural or synthetic fungicides.

Weed Control: I subscribe to the philosophy that if my ground is covered with plants there will be no room for weeds. For the most part this technique works pretty well. I am also a big fan of applying a one-to-two-inch layer of compost in the fall, which will cover any weed seeds that are just waiting to germinate. Follow these methods and come spring you will have very few weeds to deal with.

Fall is a glorious time to be in the garden. Long shadows, glistening spider webs, rich autumn colors, and sparkling drops of dew all add to the beauty of this time of year. Vacation is over. Get out there and make the most of the season. 

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside nursery in Marysville and can be reached at


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