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Work Now for Spring Success!   arrow

By Erika Strote
Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener Apprentice in Larimer County
October 3, 2015

fall garden

With the dog days of summer behind us, and fall creeping in, it is tempting to hang up your shovel and declare gardening season over. The flowers are starting to fade, the produce coming out of the vegetable garden has slowed down, and unlike the first few tomatoes of the season, it can feel like a chore to pick what is ripe and ready. Before you give up on gardening for the season and turn to other pursuits, there are three things you can do that will have you smiling in the spring.

  1. Plant some spring blooming bulbs:

Now is the perfect time to tuck some bulbs in the ground for spring flowers. This year, consider looking for bulbs that will naturalize into the landscape, providing great bang for your buck, as well as future payout for your hole digging this fall! Bulbs that naturalize means those bulbs can be counted on to come up year after year and reproduce, creating beautiful drifts of flowers over time.

When people think of spring flowering bulbs, it is often the combination of crocus, showy Darwin tulips and daffodils. While crocus and many varieties of daffodils are great naturalizers, it can be more difficult to find tulips willing to do that job. Take a look at some of the Tulip varieties like tarda, clusiana, bakeri, batalinii, or praestans. These will not give you the height or bloom size of the Darwin variety, but unlike most Darwin varieties, they will come back and multiply with each passing year.

Other bulbs that naturalize well are the delicate-looking Chionodoxa, miniature Iris reticulata and grape hyacinth Muscari. Many allium varieties will also naturalize in the landscape. Whatever you end up deciding to plant, make sure that you follow the recommended planting depth and plant in a site that is well drained—too much moisture will rot the bulbs. Late September and October are ideal months to plant bulbs because they will have time to root before the ground freezes. For more information on planting bulbs take a look at these resources from CSU Extension:

  1. Plant perennials:

Fall is a great time of year to plant perennials. The soil is still warm from the summer heat, which encourages root growth, while the rest of the plant is free from the spring and summer demands of producing top growth and flowers. This allows for the plant to establish a strong root system and be ready to take off in the spring when the soil warms up again.

This is also a good time of the year to assess your garden and think about any spaces you would like to fill before your memories fade over the winter. I often find myself impulse shopping in the spring, overwhelmed by the bounty of the garden centers, but unsure where to put the plants once I get home—is that really a hole in my landscape, or is there something already planted there under the mulch?

Spring planting often biases us toward spring and summer blooming perennials, so take a look at your fall yard. Is it looking faded or bloomed out? Think about adding some plants specifically for late summer and fall interest. A few plants that wow in the garden this time of year are asters, sedums, salvias, and Echinacea. Ornamental grasses are also at their peak beauty this time of year. For more information about perennials, including a list by bloom color and season, take a look at:

  1. Clean up your vegetable beds:

Once that first hard frost zaps the vegetable garden it can be tempting to ignore the tangle of tomato plants, squash and bean vines and leave the whole mess until the spring. Reject this impulse and pull on your garden gloves. A little work this fall can help prevent many problems in the spring!

First and foremost, remove all dead plants and dropped produce from your garden beds to prevent the spread of disease or overwintering of insect pests. If you are still motivated after the initial clean up is complete, this is also a good time to turn your beds and add compost. Spring moisture is unpredictable, but our abundant moisture last spring made it impossible to turn garden beds without severely compacting them. Take advantage of drier days in the fall to get this job done so that you are ready to plant in the spring and are not stuck waiting for soggy beds to dry out enough to turn them. For more information about readying your vegetable beds for fall, take a look at:


The author has received training through Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.

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Larimer County is a county-based outreach of Colorado State University Extension providing information you can trust to deal with current issues in agriculture, horticulture, nutrition and food safety, 4-H, small acreage, money management and parenting. For more information about CSU Extension in Larimer County, call (970) 498-6000 or visit


Looking for additional gardening information? Check out the CSU Extension Horticulture Agent blog at for timely updates about gardening around the state.


Visit PlantTalk Colorado ™ for fast answers to your gardening questions! PlantTalk is a cooperation between Colorado State University Extension, GreenCo and Denver Botanic Gardens.