The Garden Plot: Season End Learning Through Gardening

Four September Garden Chores To Enrich The Family Gardening Experience

The gardening season is starting to come to an end and it’s time to start to think about how to help your garden for next year.  This is a perfect opportunity to get your kids thinking about the design of your family garden, and the importance of completing the season through some fall garden chores.  Here is a list of four chores I would suggest you do with your kids this weekend or next:

  • Divide Perennials: Talk with your kids about the differences between a perennial and an annual plant.  Make it into a game and see how many annuals vs perennials they can identify in your surrounding landscape.  Next, have them help you divide perennials that are starting to crowd your flower beds, and get them excited about garden design by thinking about where they should be transplanted, and how it will visually impact the landscape for summers to come.  For most perennials, dividing them can be as simple as removing them from the ground with a turning fork, chopping them in quarters with a flat head shovel, and replanting them spaced out with some compost, water and mulch. The benefits of dividing your perennials reduce crowding and a growing landscape.
  • Weed & Mulch: This time of year, many plants are going to seed.  For the benefit of your gardens, one last weeding can prevent unwanted plants from going to seed.  After a thorough weeding, put down mulch to preserve your hard work. For perennial gardens, I use bark mulch, or the longer lasting wood chips. For vegetable gardens, I like straw. If plants have already started going to seed, get in a mini botany lesson while you weed by inviting your kids to collect any seeds they can find and examine the variations of shape and design.
  • Cut Back Eye Sores: Deciding whether or not to cut back a perennial garden for the winter, or a vegetable garden for that matter, has more to do with aesthetics then anything else. For the most part, I leave up the majority of my plants in my gardens and let mother nature do the heaving lifting of cutting them down.  If you leave them, your winter landscape will attract birds.  Kids can spend time in the colder months identifying what type of birds stay in Western MA for the winter, and which plants attract them with their seeds.
  • Plant Plants: Now is a great time to add plants to your perennial garden and to plant overwintering annuals in your vegetable garden. Where I have space in my flower gardens I will move perennials around into those open areas (as mentioned above).  But it’s also a great time of the year to add certain annuals to your vegetable garden (lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, etc.) for next spring. If you plant seeds now, let them grow a few inches before the hard frost and then cover with straw mulch, and uncover late winter, you’ll get a jump start on your spring greens for next year. You might be surprised that the majority will make it through the winter and are ready for harvest 4+ weeks earlier than if you wait for the spring to plant. Get your kids involved in planting spring greens and watch their excitement to harvest and eat them next year!

    (Photo credits: (c) Becky)


Jim McSweeney

Jim is a certified arborist, certified horticulturist, licensed pesticide applicator (needed for the application of organic pesticides in MA) & a professional landscape designer with over 15 years experience. He is also the owner of Hilltown Tree & Garden LLC. Jim is on the faculty at the New England Wildflower Society, teaching courses on a diverse range of topics. He lives and works in Zone 5 (Chesterfield, MA) with his family. Once a month here on Hilltown Families you will find timely gardening tips, from a pro in the field, that can be easily used by both avid and novice gardeners, specific to Western MA.

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