From Our Backyard to Yours: Fall Tips from the Land Management Team

The Forest Park Forever fall Newsletter, published a few weeks ago, included a shorter version of this article. We share an expanded version with our online readers today, welcoming all of you to tend to your own gardens with the benefit of our staff's knowledge: 

Peter VanLinn, Park Ecologist

Prep Well for Winter: When planting native wildflowers, forbs and grasses by seed, utilize the forecast and try laying the seed down just before a snow. The snow helps compact the seeds into the soil while also helping with the cold stratification that some native plant species need to help them germinate in the spring. Then, when the snow melts, it helps to water the soil and implant those seeds even deeper in the soil. 

Mark Halpin, Horticulturist 

Sanitize. Good sanitation is one of the most effective ways to prevent pests and diseases in the garden. As soon as any deciduous plant that has experienced pest or disease problems during the season has dropped its leaves, remove them to prevent the pathogens from overwintering near the plants. In spring they will return to the host plant if left nearby. Discard the infected leaves in a manner allowed by your area. Prune out any dead, diseased or dying growth with sharp pruners or a saw, and be sure to sanitize your pruning equipment with Lysol or rubbing alcohol when moving from plant to plant to reduce the spread of infection. 

Fill the Gaps: Fall is a great time to divide and transplant perennials to fill in any gaps in your garden. Wait until the weather cools in late September or early October and plants begin to enter dormancy. Dig up the plants, keeping the rootball as intact as possible, and divide with a knife, your hands, or a sharp garden spade depending on the size of the rootball and how dense it is. Water them well and monitor them when the ground starts to freeze; plants may heave out of the ground during frosts and can be pushed back down into place to prevent damage to the roots.

Collect & Scatter: For many native perennials that reseed easily, collect seedheads and scatter them wherever you want the plants to pop up next spring. If you don’t want plants to spread, remove and discard the seed heads; otherwise leave them intact for winter interest and to provide food for birds.

Plant Anew: Fall is also a good time for new plantings, which should be avoided during the heat of the summer. Most trees and shrubs can be planted anytime between fall and spring if the ground is not frozen, but keep in mind that certain plants are less versatile and should only be planted during a particular season. Research plants before you install them. Ask a nursery professional, horticulturist or arborist if the plant you want has particular needs. 

Remove: Remove undesirable or invasive woody plants like Honeysuckle, Mullberry and Silver Maple in fall; cut them as low to the ground as possible and treat with a concentrated general purpose or broadleaf herbicide immediately after cutting for best results. Smaller plants are best removed manually with a shovel or trowel. If you are cutting and spraying the plants, you should monitor the stumps in the spring. You can either spray more herbicide on the new growth or cover the plant with a trash bag or cardboard box to prevent more growth. 

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Kate Ronan, Gardener

Creatively Reuse: You can use leftover tea and coffee grounds to acidify the soil of acid-loving plants. 

Chris Kelly, Horticulture Apprentice

Know your plants.  Not all plants require the same, general type of care. Know which of your plants like shade, which like sun, which like a lot of water and which like little to no water. Try to plant according to the plants’ needs and habits and it will make maintenance much easier. The “Plant Finder” tool at can be invaluable for this.

Care for your equipment: Keep your tools — even the simplest ones — in good, working order. Clean, sharpen, and oil them after each use. It makes the work more efficient and enjoyable.
Be creative.  It isn’t necessary to stick to the “norm” when it comes to plant selection or bed design. Use your imagination and research interesting plants to make your bed unique. One good way to do this is to use nature for ideas. Take a hike and pay attention to how shrubs and trees grow naturally and try to mimic that in your space.

ENJOY your hard work! It is easy to get wrapped up constantly working on your beds and maintaining them, but it is important to occasionally take the time to sit back and enjoy your hard work. This is what makes it all worthwhile.