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Six Fall Landscaping Ideas That Will Help Your Garden Transition Into the New Season

Martha Stewart Living logo Martha Stewart Living 7/2/2020 Caroline Biggs
a plant in a park: From container plant tips to using mulch, here's what four landscape architects say you should do in the garden come autumn. © Claire Takacs From container plant tips to using mulch, here's what four landscape architects say you should do in the garden come autumn.

There's no better time than the fall to work on your garden. "The soil is easier to dig because it's warmer and not constantly being flooded with spring rains," explains Melissa Reavis, residential studio director at Hollander Design Landscape Architects. "The air temperature is a bit more comfortable for being outside and the weather is usually a bit more predictable (you don't have to deal with the crazy late frosts). Plus, plants tend to be cheaper in garden centers because they're not covered in pretty flowers."

However, if you live in an area with especially cold winters, it's important to choose hardier plant varieties, such as Oriental poppies and peonies, and look after them more diligently. "Certain plants may not survive in extreme winter climates," says Mario Nievera of Nievera Williams Landscape Architecture. "Make sure you have planted the rootball properly with no air pockets in the soil [surrounding] the rootball. Trim deadwood branches and old leaves. And don't water late in the season or too close to a pending frost." Ahead, experts explain their top fall landscaping ideas for your garden.

Related: Here's What's Happening in Martha's Garden This Fall

Create Compost

If you're throwing out all of the dead leaves that accumulate in your yard during the fall, garden and landscape designer Amber Freda says you might want to rethink your method. "People always think they should rake and bag up their fall leaves, but fall leaves are nature's mulch that actually help improve the soil quality, over time, by creating a natural layer of compost," she says. "If you don't like the way the leaves look in your garden beds, consider purchasing a mulching leaf vacuum/blower. They come with a bag attached that will instantly turn the leaves into a fine mulch and deposit them cleanly into the included bag for you, which you can then dump into your garden beds and spread like regular mulch."

Try Container Plants

Not only do potted plants make beautiful additions to any outdoor area, but they can also be brought indoors if it gets too cold to keep them outside. "For fall containers, pair sturdy, hardy succulents like echeveria with pansies and violas," says Stephen Eich, urban studio director at Hollander Design Landscape Architects. "The succulents can then be potted and placed indoors for a wonderful display to enjoy through the winter."

Think Outside the Mum

Prefer your fall garden with a little more pizzazz? Eich says to consider planting cool-season vegetables and greens instead of traditional mums. "Mixing cabbages, rainbow chards, and kales with ornamental grasses will create a vibrant display for special spaces in the garden," he explains. "They also provide appetizing veggies while adding texture to the scene."

Plant Plenty of Trees and Shrubs

Landscape architect Janice Parker says the fall is a wonderful time to plant evergreen trees as well as deciduous ornamental trees and shrubs. "Trees that work beautifully are Japanese maples, especially the cut leaf weepers, Sargent crabapples, and weeping cherries," she says. If you're looking for broadleaf evergreen foliage, she says hardy boxwood, Delaware Valley White azaleas, and Mt. Fire Andromeda will also fare well in cold weather conditions. "Evergreens such as Hinoki cypress and birds nest spruce can be grown in containers," she adds. "Just remember that these containers will need water and attentive care during the winter—especially if there is no snow cover."

Mind Your Borders 

Your landscape borders—the sliver of space between your grass and garden—are brimming with visual opportunity, and all you need in order to take advantage of the space are the right plants. "Think beyond fall foliage for seasonal interest," Eich says. "Using unique plants, such as Callicarpa (beautyberry), adds an unexpected pop of vibrant purple to the landscape and contributes something special to perennial borders." Reavis adds: "Many people are too quick to deadhead their plants once the flowers are spent, but plants like alliums and Rudbeckia can continue to add texture and interest to your borders well into fall."

Don't Forget About Fruit

A little fruit can go a long way in dressing up your fall landscape. "Certain shrubs and trees have fruits and berries that can add to your garden's fall display," Parker says. "Shrubs like bayberry, Scarlet firethorn, sumacs, roses, elderberries, chokeberries, and winterberries have beautifully colored fruit that brings extra visual interest to a garden."


Gallery: 12 Low Maintenance Flowering Shrubs to Plant in the Fall for Gorgeous Spring Blooms (Martha Stewart Living)

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