Cape Cod Home Autumn 2018 Cover

Fall Awakening

Cape Cod Home  /  Autumn 2018 / , , ,

Writer: Elizabeth Hilfrank

Fall Awakening

Cape Cod Home Autumn 2018 Cover

Cape Cod Home  /  Autumn 2018 / , , ,

Writer: Elizabeth Hilfrank


Putting in the fall hours will lead to spring flowers. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

This fall season, make the most of your yard and get your gardens in tip-top shape for the spring ahead

Spring is typically the first season to come to mind when someone mentions gardening, yet much of what we see in the spring relies on fall preparation. Instead of worrying that the days of looking out at a beautiful yard are becoming few and far between, take advantage of the fall climate to prepare for a beautiful spring blossom as well as a neat and tidy winter.

The first thing to note when talking about fall is that fall is not just one gardening season but two. Terry Soares, of Soares Flower Garden Nursery in East Falmouth, cites Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf when speaking about the seasons. Oudolf believes the year to be divided into five gardening seasons: winter, spring, summer, early fall and late fall. Soares says that different gardening tasks should be performed at different points of autumn in order for complete success, both for the winter as well as the following spring. Soares defines early fall as the time between late August and late October. “This is the time to clean out everything that is past its prime,” she says.

“Past its prime” usually refers to the early season bloomers, but with the drought Cape Cod experienced this summer, many plants are already withering. In particular, Soares suggests that now is the time to cut back most perennials. When cutting them back, you should think about if you want them anywhere else in the garden, because now is also a good time to divide perennials and replant, which will invigorate them. If you should choose to take on this task, David Christopher of Agway of Orleans recommends marking both the new and the old locations because “It may be fresh in your mind now, but remembering where all your perennial plants were planted can be a challenge next spring. Placing some simple plant tags in front of each of your perennials now will save you the guess work next year.”

Garden pruning

Finding reasons to enjoy your garden in every season, and embracing every stage, is one way to become a year-round garden enthusiast. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Another yard feature that should not be forgotten during fall cleaning is window boxes. While Soares suggests getting rid of the plants that have gone by, she does not encourage emptying them entirely. Instead, the seasoned gardener suggests supplementing the good plants that remain with autumn annuals and perennials.

To add even more vibrancy to your fall landscape, Soares Flower Garden Nursery offers workshops to create planters for the yard. Due to past years’ successes, the nursery focuses on hypertufa planters and pumpkins topped with succulents. Soares says that these two decorative items have surpassed the potted mum in popularity, as they offer a fun change from tradition and are proven to last. The fall gourds consist of nothing more than simple construction of moss and succulent cuttings hot glued to the top of pumpkins, yet Soares believes they make a wonderful addition to anyone’s front door entry.

So, this is all to say that gardening does not have to, and should not, end with the summer heat; and potted plants do not have to be the only source of fall color, either. Soares suggests to “Continue deadheading roses to encourage late season blooms,” and notes, “Sedums, ornamental grasses and cabbages can be left and added to. You can add greens in December.”

Leaving ornamental grasses to their own well-being not only allows for a more dynamic lawn, but it is also critical to the grasses’ overall survival. Paul Miskovsky of Miskovksy Landscaping in Falmouth explains that a common mistake in winter preparation is clipping the grasses rather than simply keeping them neat and tidy. “The plants are still growing,” he explains. “If you cut an ornamental grass now, you will see the inside of the stem is still green. It will be brown in the spring.” When winter gets closer, Miskovsky suggests tying the grasses into “living vases.”

Along with grasses, Christopher explains that “Now is a good time to be buying your spring blooming shrubs, as most garden centers are offering great deals. Shrubs such as forsythia, lilacs, azalea, rhododendron, quince, pussy willow, fothergilla, spirea and daphne all produce blooms during the months of April and May. Spring blooming perennials include viola, lungwort, bleeding heart, iris, Virginia bluebells, lady’s mantle, brunnera, candytuft, creeping phlox and columbine.”

Luckily, Hyannis Country Garden just filled their shelves with their fall stock. “We just got in our shipment of bulbs,” says sales associate Lucas Benson. “So, daffodils, crocuses, tulips, allium bulbs, which are ornamental onions, chives—those are all good to plant now. And some will come up really early in the spring, others later, but they offer a pretty good burst of color for that time of year.”

If you choose to plant the larger shrubs at this point in the year, consider specimen planting as way to draw more eyes on your beautiful landscape. “Specimen planting is selecting a plant and highlighting it in a given space,” explains Miskovksy. “This could include placing upright weeping plants in the focal point of the yard, or planting evergreens and deciduous shrubs in a small courtyard between buildings.”

Evergreen trees are just one example of plants that do well year-round on Cape. To continue enjoying a lovely, interesting garden throughout the year, Miskovsky considers juniper, holly and pines as three other great options to choose from.


It wouldn’t be fall without pumpkins. Head to Soares Flower Garden Nursery in Falmouth to learn how you can incorporate succulents into your pumpkin decorations. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

To Miskovsky, one of the most important aspects of preparing now for the spring season is to be in-tune with your own garden, yet this is often easier said than done. Timing is everything when it comes to gardening. Prune too early, the plant dies; don’t clear leaves in the fall, you end up with a fungus-filled yard in the spring.

“The value of having a regular maintenance program is getting things done in a systematic order,” says Gary Murphy, owner of Coy’s Brook Landscaping of Yarmouth Port, “aerations in the fall, using the right amount of fertilization, and putting down lime, which many forget to do.”

Experienced landscapers know exactly when to plant, where to plant and how to plant. If you are already feeling stressed, find the right professional to take the gardening stress off your hands and maybe even teach you a little something along the way.

Speaking of timing, when late fall finally makes its debut around Halloween, it’s time to lay your composted soil. This soil can be purchased from local nurseries in the area, but if you are already cleaning up in the early fall season, you can keep the debris and make your own. Christopher explains, “All you need to do is to mix leaves, grass clippings, plant cuttings, coffee grounds, egg shell and any old produce material into a closed container and place outside in a sunny location, and periodically turn the batch of material over. Within a short period of time (usually 6-8 weeks), the material will have composted enough for you to use for your gardening purposes.”

Once your compost has set, and the first frost arrives, Christopher advises that “Before winter sets in, put down a 1-inch layer of leaves and grass clippings over each of your beds followed by a 3-inch layer of mulch. (Bags of compost from your local nursery or town dump can be used if you don’t have the leaves or grass clippings). Your plants will appreciate the extra layer of insulation, and the leaves and grass clippings will compost over the winter months.” Miskovsky adds that the frost on your lawn is also a timely indicator to pull your annuals.

For those who enjoy water gardens in their landscape, Murphy, who notes that Coy’s Brook specializes in this feature, says that it is time to “disconnect the pump to stop water flow, but keep a pathway or opening with a small heater or tubes to the pond so that the ice breaks. Fish run out of oxygen after seven days, therefore a hole or pathway to allow air in is needed to keep an oxygen supply.” Like a pool made for humans, it is important to then take out any lines or UV lights so they don’t freeze over the winter.

And as snow threatens to be the sight you will see for the next few months, Christopher suggests making a map of your spring garden, so when the days get dark, you can be reminded of the bright blooms ahead.

Elizabeth Hilfrank

Elizabeth Hilfrank is a freelance writer who lives in Mashpee. A Cape Cod washashore, Elizabeth writes most frequently for Cape Cod Life Publications in Cape Cod HOME. When she's not writing, she works as a video marketer for a tech start up in Boston.