Check It Off

By Sharon Mosley

July 3, 2009 5 min read


A prominent gardener offers his to-do list for upcoming seasons

Sharon Mosley

Creators News Service

When the leaves begin to turn and the summer flowers begin to fade, it's just another season that blossoms into a bountiful supply of endless outdoor inspiration for P. Allen Smith. As one of America's premier garden and lifestyle designers, Allen's mission is "to help people create beautiful living spaces that blur the lines between the indoors and the outdoors."

He is the host of the public television series "P. Allen Smith's Garden Home," a regular contributor on NBC's Today Show and the Weather Channel's exclusive gardener. He has authored numerous books, and his journey in creating an earth-friendly garden home on 30 acres overlooking the Arkansas River Valley is the source of countless television shows and a website ( that gives viewers month-by-month updates from both Allen and Marge, his beloved cat.

Allen and his staff are always looking ahead and coming up with new ideas on how to make the most of gardening outdoors and indoors. So when Allen was asked what he would suggest to spruce up gardens in the fall and winter, he had these suggestions:


* Seed new lawn areas or patch thin areas. Keep newly seeded areas moist until grass is established.

* Transplant misplaced trees, shrubs and perennials. The best days to do this are cloudy with no wind. Keep the roots from drying out with a plastic sheet and keep them well watered. Autumn's sunny days, cool temperatures and warm soil promote root development.

* If you live in a region with relatively mild winters (zones seven and warmer), plant pansies, violas and kale. They will bloom from now until hot temperatures set in next spring.

* Refresh tired-looking plants in containers and borders with fall bloomers. Plant spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus. Arrange them in clumps of 15 to 20 of the same variety for the most dramatic result.

* Plant peonies. "In warmer climates, I've had luck with the varieties Festiva maxima and Sarah Bernhardt," he said. Also, look for new varieties developed to have stronger stems.

* Choose and plant new trees and shrubs. Keep them well watered throughout the fall and make sure they're mulched, especially evergreens.

* Pot up herbs in small containers for the kitchen window, pinching back the stems to compensate for root loss and encourage compact growth. Try parsley, thyme, mint, chives, oregano or basil.


* If Japanese beetles have been a problem in the garden, chances are the grubs are living in the soil. A long-lasting organic solution is to treat the area with milky spores.

* Cut back perennial foliage after a killing freeze. Also cut back plants that have had disease problems during the growing season, but allow stems and seed heads that will provide food for birds or winter interest to remain intact.

* Rake leaves and add them to a compost bin.

* Build up the soil in the flowerbeds by working in plenty of compost.


* Move your houseplants indoors before the first hard frost. The best time to make the move them is when inside temperatures are similar to those outdoors.

* Once the ground is frozen, apply a three- to five-inch layer of mulch to your flowerbeds. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the foundation of your house, the trunks of trees and crowns of plants.

* Hill soil to a height of eight to 10 inches around roses for winter protection. Mulch after the ground freezes.

* Use hardware cloth to wrap around the base of small fruit trees and roses. This will protect them from rodents.


* Keep up with weeding. Unwanted plants are always energetically attempting to set seed.

* Before you put away your mower, weed whip, weed blower or other gasoline powered equipment, run the engine until it is dry or drain the gasoline. Take the equipment to the shop for any repairs needed.

* Clean and oil garden tools. "I store my tools in a five-gallon bucket filled with sand and about a cup of mineral oil to keep them clean and oiled," he said.

* Drain outside water lines, turn off faucets and bring in hoses.

* Clean and store terra cotta containers. They will crack in freezing temperatures. Small pots can be sterilized by soaking them in a solution of one part bleach to four parts water.

* Hang and fill bird feeders. Place them in areas where you can enjoy watching them feed, but also give the birds protection and safe places to perch.

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