The Fall Garden: a quick guide to autumn-blooming flowers, harvesting, seeding, clean up, and other fall activities

Green Tips | September 12, 2017

Putting a bit of effort into your garden in the fall allows it to thrive during next year’s growing season. There are also many new plants that thrive in fall weather, such as flowers, shrubs, and edible plants. Even if your garden consists of just a few containers on a New York City rooftop or fire escape, there are still many things to be done in the fall!

New York State, given it’s size and diverse ecology, has a variety of USDA hardiness zones – you can use this map to see which zone your garden falls into. It is also very important to note the existing soil and plant composition, amount of sun, and drainage of the soil when choosing new plants for your garden. A properly curated garden can look beautiful year-round!

Plants that harvest in the fall

Edible plants have fall harvests in New York include cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, leeks, and of course the fall staple, pumpkins. Most of these should be planted in the summer months.

Plants and seeds that you can add in the fall

Autumn is not too late to add new perennials and seeds to your garden! In fact, many seeds are best poised for success when planted in the fall months. In terms of adding mature perennials, especially in the colder zones 5 and 4 of New York, your plants are more likely to establish roots and survive their first winter if planted in early fall. Here is a guide to fall fertilizing to ensure your plants’ success.

The Farmer’s Almanac provides an excellent calendar for sowing vegetable seeds, customized to 100 New York cities and towns.

If you have moist soil, the beautiful aster may thrive in your garden. The native Crown of Ray’s Goldenrod can thrive in full sun and dry soil anywhere in New York State except the chilly internal Adirondacks. The native Black Eyed Susan, often found in meadows and alongside New York State highways, is an excellent natural flower that blooms through the fall season. More flower options can be found in the DEC Division of Land and Forests native flower guide. Perennials are favored over annuals in natural gardens, as they are more sustainable and require less effort.

Several ornamental grasses, such as Maiden Grass, put on a show during fall months as they change from red, to green-silver, to yellow.

Cover Crops

Adding a cover crop to your vegetable garden in the fall is extremely beneficial for next year’s harvest: they add nutrients, prevent erosion, and discourage weeds to name a few. Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a great guide to cover crops.

Fall Bulbs

The most popular naturalized bulb options for New York State are wild Tulips and Daffodils, as they return stronger in numbers the next growing season. Bulbs should be planted when the nighttime temperature hovers in the 40’s (F), and should be followed with fertilizer for best results.

Fall clean up

Fall is also a great time to clear old or unwanted plants and enhance the soil. Consider adding mulch or manure (or one of the cover crops mentioned above). If you have a lawn, clippings and leaves can be used as mulch or tossed into a compost pile

Additional Reading

For those interested in further reading about natural garden plant selection, Ken Druse’s The Natural Garden offers a comprehensive overview of native Northeast plants and how to select plants that fit your specific conditions and desired amount of labor. Druse is native to the New York Metro Area, and in fact his very first garden was atop his SoHo apartment.


Author: Victoria Shea

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