Gardeners, take note: Growing season is just around the corner

Fall in the garden is a time for tidying up and taking stock after the summer drought, seeing what has survived, what is worth nurturing or what should be consigned to the compost heap. Once the ground has been softened by the first rains, it will be time to plant new additions to the garden, so now is a good time to think about what plants you want to add, to look through catalogs, gardening magazines, websites and books and to stock up at plant nurseries. A good idea is to position new plants still in their pots in the place where you think they should be planted and leave them there for a while, so that you can move them around until you feel the position is just right. That way you are less likely to make mistakes. Remember to take into account the plants’ potential maximum growth (height and width) – don’t overcrowd or you’ll have to move them when they start getting too big. Remember to ensure they will get either plenty of sun or not too much, depending on their specific needs. October and November are good months to move plants, when it is still early enough for them to get used to their new spot before the really cold weather starts. Another thing to remember is to mix plants according to the season they flower in such a way that you have blooms somewhere in the garden nearly all year round. Spring bulbs will need to be planted and are now beginning to appear in garden shops. One method of achieving a «natural» look is to toss them gently onto the soil in handfuls and plant them where they fall to avoid straight lines. Another idea is to plant them close together in clumps near shrubs to provide color contrast in spring. Don’t prune shrubs in the fall or you will stimulate new growth that the cold weather will kill, but trees, particularly deciduous ones, can be pruned now when they are no longer subjected to stress from the summer heat. It is not too early to take cuttings, as long as they are protected from cold winds. If you haven’t done so already, adjust any automatic watering systems. The garden won’t need such frequent watering from now on. Weeding needs to start again, and it is very important to uproot weeds before they flower in order to prevent them from seeding, and before they get too big and draw off moisture and nutrients from neighboring plants. As soon as leaves begin to fall, get out there with the rake, as leaf mold is one of the best nutrients for your garden. It enriches the soil, returning minerals such as calcium, magnesium and trace minerals to the soil. Leaves retain up to 500 percent of their weight in water and so are an excellent source of moisture if your garden soil is sandy. Leaf mold can also aerate heavy, clay soils. Even acid-loving plants will benefit from a mulch of leaf mold around their roots. Beware, however, as not all leaves are appropriate. Waxy leaves, such as Red-Tipped Photinia won’t decompose as readily, and leaves from walnut trees inhibit plant germination and growth, so it is best to leave them under the parent plant. Leaves should be rotted down separately from the rest of the compost heap, however, as they break down at a different rate. If you don’t have space for a pit or bin in your garden, the leaves can be collected and pressed down into large black plastic garbage bags and hidden away behind a bush. In fact, they will decompose faster that way. The leaves must be moist, however, to decompose properly. Sofia Pilavaki, a garden designer in Athens, says it is not a good idea to allow leaves to collect on lawns or in herbaceous borders in the hope that they will rot down on their own, as there is never enough moisture in Greece for this to happen. They might also harbor micro-organisms that could harm plants. Pilavaki also emphasized the need to support young trees from potential breakage by the force of winter gales and to remove any broken branches now. «And when you adjust your watering times to winter needs, keep them regular, as the weather is changeable in autumn, with alternating dry and wet spells, and check the hoses for holes or breakage,» she suggested. Now is also the time to take out summer perennials and bring autumn and winter-flowering plants into the garden. Autumn flowering bulbs include sea squills, cyclamen, Sternbergia lutea (Sternbergia, kitrino krinaki in Greek), Colchicum (autumn crocus, kolhiko), and Narcissus serotinus (autumn narcissus, Fthinoporino zambaki). Chrysanthemums come in a variety of autumn colors that look great grouped in pots on the balcony or in a courtyard. Jasmine, plumbago and cassias are also in full bloom now, as well as some rose species. Above all, enjoy the work, for although fall is one of the busiest seasons in the garden, it is also one of the pleasantest to be outside.