After the pleasant busyness of the late-summer and early-autumn harvesting crunch, and before the winter rains truly set in, you’ll enjoy a window of fine weather and working conditions to do a little garden and landscape maintenance. Part of the joy of the season on Vancouver Island is its calm, its meditative quality—the unhurried preparation for shortening days, cooler temperatures, maritime rains, all on the heels of heat and produce bounties.
First off, clean up your spread. Remove the above ground husks of any perennials that have browned and died back, and gather ground litter like dried leaves and twigs. Such detritus—as well as big weed patches and discarded equipment—is excellent for cultivating slugs, which you most certainly don’t want in your garden beds. On the subject of slugs, autumn is a great time to apply some anti-slug defenses such as beer traps. Baiting out slugs in early autumn, before they’ve laid eggs, can save you much hassle later on—and doing another round of bait later on in the season can target the hatchlings you missed.
Now’s a good time to transplant, because plants you get in the soil in autumn have time to adjust to the ambient conditions and develop root systems ahead of next summer’s water stresses. You should also get spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths into the ground now. You can prune back most hardy species this time of year as well.
If you’re a garlic fan—and few aren’t, given the plant’s impressive culinary, homeopathic, and ornamental properties—mid- to late fall is an excellent time to get some cloves in the ground. In our climate—and, really, most temperate climates, save for those with truly severe winters—bulb development seems to proceed best by overwintering. The plants are thus exposed to stimulating cold and are ready all the earlier to produce stalks and leaves in late winter and early spring. Place the cloves upright—that is, in the vertical position they were in the bulb—with their tips a couple of inches below the surface.
Perhaps you’ve planted garlic and other vegetables to be overwintered—kale, lettuce, carrots, and the like—this fall. Buffer the fluffed-out and amended soil they’re now nestled in against the pelting winter rains with a mulch of some kind. Dried leaves, straw, and even cardboard are examples. If using organic material as your mulch, try to make sure it’s free of weed seeds; otherwise, you may be causing as much trouble as you’re saving.
Speaking of weeds, a proper layer of mulch will help smother some of the next generation. To make your life easier, be sure to conduct a thorough weeding in the autumn to knock back as much as you can those species that may lie dormant or, worse, flourish in the wintertime. Weeding can be an absolute chore, tough on the knees, the back, and the hands, but it’s a necessary one, and your future spring and summer incarnation—the one readying all manner of edibles and ornamentals to go into the ground—will thank you for your autumn labours. If you simply can’t attend as fully as you’d like to all corners of your property, at least make an effort to remove any remaining seed-heads (This can be as simple a process as swiftly clipping them off and hauling them away, without worrying about excavating the root system.) It isn’t a perfect solution, but you will be making some kind of headway against those opportunistic non-desirables that—in between bouts of cursing and back spasms—we sometimes ruefully honor for their absolute tenacity.
If you’ve got irrigation installed, blow out your hoses to avoid freezing ruptures. Pressurized air can rid your system of residual water. Now’s also a good time to do a general inspection of all of your landscaping infrastructure—fences, edging, raised beds, and the like—ahead of potentially damaging winter storms and the odd freeze.
So, get out there on these pleasant autumn days and get your hands dirty! Above all else, you’ll be communing with your garden and your larger yard during a special time of year and thus deeply perceiving the seasonal cycle.