Fall: Time for a garden refresh

Courtesy of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System

AUBURN, Ala. – As autumn brings cooler temperatures to Alabama, it looks as if summer heat is on the way out. Pleasant weather has drawn many southern gardeners out to make lawn and garden updates.

Whether it is general maintenance—like pruning branches—or raking fallen leaves for compost piles, Alabama Extension regional home grounds, gardens and home pests agent Mallory Kelley shares some tips for homeowners and gardeners.


“When pruning, remember you will be choosing the point at which new growth will come from next spring,” Kelley said. “For a more natural look in the landscape, reach down in the canopy of the shrub to a branch junction before making a cut.”

Kelley said this will give the plant a more natural look, but also create less work for the gardener through the seasons.

Gardeners who prefer a more formal look will be sheering more often. In this case, Kelley said homeowners should keep the top of the shrub narrower than the base. Avoid allowing the top to become like a mushroom because it will shade out growth near the ground and cause those branches to stop growing. This creates a leggy appearance.

Kelley suggests contacting a professional if there are large trees dropping major limbs in the yard. Take care of the problem before it comes crashing down on the house or yard.


According to Kelley, mulch is a gardener’s best friend. There are many materials people can use to mulch a landscape. With leaves already falling, they would be a readily available material to use.

“Maybe you will rake those leaves to start a new compost pile to amend the soil with later, or maybe you will rake them into garden beds now instead of hauling them to the curb for pickup,” Kelley said.

Mulch will help insulate roots this winter and break down to add nutrients to the soil. Most importantly, the leaves will suppress weeds—alleviating the need to spray or hand-pull.

“When adding new mulch, I personally like to let all of the leaves drop from the trees first, so that the fresh layer of pine straw or pine bark doesn’t get covered up with messy leaves,” she said. “Since fall is the best time to plant new trees and shrubs, the new mulch will help keep moisture consistent as they get established.”

Kelley reminds gardeners when mulching annual bedding plants, always put the mulch down before planting pansies, snap dragons or ornamental cabbages. Pulling back the mulch to plant transplants will be easier than planting the bed and coming back to place pine straw around each transplant without causing damage.

Find out more information about mulching in Alabama Extension’s publication Mulches for the Home Landscape.

Adding new plants

Kelley said it is important to prepare the soil in flower beds with fresh compost and slow-release fertilizer at planting.

“Annuals are heavy feeders and the new transplants will need some additional nutrients added in order for them to thrive,” Kelley said.

She also advises plant identification before pulling on pesky vines.

“It’s always a good idea to wear long sleeves and gloves when working in the yard, but especially with poisonous vines,” she said.

More information

For more gardening and home grounds information, visit Alabama Extension online. There you will find lots of lawn and garden tips. To speak to an agent directly, contact your county Extension office.