This week I was gently scolded for not telling people what should be done at any given time in the garden, so here are my best ideas for making the garden happy as the days shorten and the nights get cooler.
This is the perfect time to plant garlic, and fall catalogs are full of varieties. My favorite has always been an Italian garlic with purple skin that peals off easily. But you don't have to purchase special planting stock. Simply buy a few heads of organic garlic so you know they're not treated to prevent growth. Toss the smaller cloves into a stir-fry and plant the biggest ones pointy end up. Don't peel the cloves you're going to plant.
Many other bulbs are best planted in the fall, including daffodils, dahlias, hyacinth and gladiolas. If your solid mass of dahlia bulbs is larger than a 2-gallon bucket, it's time to dig, divide, share a few and replant. But before you replant, enlarge the hole and dump in a bucket of compost. Stir a couple handfuls of bonemeal into the compost, and then gently tuck your bulbs in for the winter, and pull the covers up snuggly.
Mulching and soil
Because of our mild climate, many perennials and trees are best planted in the fall. While you find rhodies and azaleas available primarily in spring, they prefer to be planted when the cool, moist weather creates perfect rooting conditions. Mulch them warmly, and they'll be well established and ready to put out healthy new growth early in the spring.
This is the best time to amend your soil so that the goodies have all winter to break down. Pile on layers of compost and/or the manure of cows, chickens and rabbits. Cow manure is what is most often available, partly because they create more of it. Chicken manure is "hot," so it needs to break down by composting before you put it around growing plants. If you've got it, put it on an empty bed. Rabbit manure is best of all. Not hot, it can be piled fresh on and around whatever you have growing.
The right kind of manure
Everyone knows that dog and cat and human manure don't belong in the garden, but also beware of pig and horse manure. Pigs are too much like people, and if you think about it, you can have hours of comparative giggles that will eventually explain everything from global warming to hanging chads.
Horses, on the other hand, are nice simple creatures. They have a very short digestive system, so most of the seeds they eat pass right through and grow happily wherever they're deposited in road apples. So use horse manure only if you want a nice crop of oats.
On top of your compost, pile a thick mulch that will break down and add food to the soil while protecting it from erosion. I use straw and fallen leaves, old flower stems and the prunings from bushes. It all protects the soil, provides habitat for tiny workers and becomes time-released nutrients over the winter.