Advice to live by late-summer and fall

We love being spontaneous and bringing something new home for our containers, adding some herbs or succulents to our patio or planting up a hydrangea since a bad case of winter burn took our holly bushes.

Contrary to popular belief, you can plant in the summer, and any time the ground is workable. As long as you provide ample water, your perennials can get an excellent start spreading out strong roots well before cold temperatures. There are also plenty of warm-weather annuals that thrive in the intense summer sun and well into fall.

But sometimes we need to step back and take stock of our outdoor space, especially when the decisions we make this year can make a real difference in how we use, care for and enjoy our yards and gardens next year and for many more. Maybe our lives are changing, maybe we’ve been on autopilot or making decisions that don’t really fit.

Here’s how to set yourself on your own personal path to happiness with 6 of the smartest pieces of advice we’ve gotten and given: 

1. Live in the moment, plant for the future

There’s a Chinese proverb that says something along the lines of the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now. Fall is a great time to make planting decisions you’ll enjoy in spring and maybe even 20 years from now.

Watch for bulbs you can plant this fall and enjoy in spring, like daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, crocuses and snowdrops. It doesn’t matter how many times we do this, it’s still the kind of surprise that makes our day when they pop up in early spring. Ask at the garden center when they’ll be coming in to get your pick of the crop.

General rule of thumb is to space bulbs 1-2x their width apart and 3x as deep as they are high. Point side up (‘cheer up’) and keep them away from swampy/wet areas like at the bottom of a hill or by a downspout. We like to mix in a little Chickety Doo Doo or compost to improve the soil and if you have extra leaves lying around, they make a great insulating blanket over the soil.

Think of your landscape in layers, adding a layer to complement what you already have and give you something you’re missing, like a focal point or area of interest in every season. For example, if you’re heavy on annuals that have a big impact in spring, summer and/or fall, your winter landscape may leave you a little disappointed. The green is gone, there’s snow, the days can be gray for longer stretches than we care to remember. But add in an evergreen tree or shrub and begin to layer in interesting greens, blues and the kind of texture that can break up an otherwise bare landscape. It’s also a great way to add privacy, a windbreak and a place for wildlife.

We love trees and shrubs with colored, patterned or textured bark like the River Birch, yellow- and red-twigged dogwoods or serviceberry and the almost architectural branches of the Japanese Maple. You can also look for trees and shrubs with berries, like holly, winterberry and crabapples or try a variety of ornamental grasses that add color, texture and movement as well as food and shelter for birds.

Check plant tags, they’ll include seasonal highlights, including foliage color, blooms and fragrance as well as the space and exposure they’ll need to thrive. Or ask someone in the garden center to help you. Bringing in a photo of your landscape is always helpful and you can even sign up for our Snapshot Gardening Consultation for one-on-one time with a landscape designer.

2. Don’t build the backyard of someone’s else’s dreams

You’ve seen the eye candy on sites like Houzz.com, Pinterest and DIY Network. The fire pits, fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, pools, patios, arbors, annual gardens, rose gardens, topiaries, elaborately sculpted grounds. And they’re cool and beautiful, but they just might not be you.

It’s not sour grapes, it’s actually being a grown up and creating a space that meets your priorities, needs and budget, rather than someone else’s. Need some help figuring that out? Start here or try a Snapshot Gardening Consultation.

It’s good to be you.

3. Don’t try so hard

At some point, what takes too much of your time, energy or water is just not going to be sustainable. You know about where that threshold lies, the one where relaxation turns into stress.

So when you’re thinking about what to plant and where to put it, whether you should add a new plant bed, a raised bed garden, whatever it might be, try to make decisions that come naturally.

Choose plants that are native (which means they’re hardier and often require less watering), drought-tolerant if they’ll be in full sun, fast-growing when you want them to be, slow-growing for small spots and so on. If you have a notoriously wet, poorly drained area, have a dry creek bed installed and plant groundcover or plants that don’t mind the moisture.

Install drip irrigation for your garden or containers. Choose disease-resistant varieties. Ask for help with finding the things that will make your life and landscape easier.

4. Rethink beauty

For many of us, what passes for beauty in the suburbs can become suffocatingly the same. Perfectly green, edged lawns, builder-package landscaping with the shrubs up front and the token tree or two.

But what if we stop worrying about looking like everyone else—while still keeping the neighborhood association happy, ahem—and we mix in some personality and passion.

Like setting aside space to mix in edibles with your perennials and annuals. Add a Brazzleberries blueberry or raspberry bush among your boxwoods or in the pots flanking your porch. Add colorful peppers to your pots or interspersed with your annuals. Use this winter to plan part of your landscape beds in back, on the side, maybe even in the front to include lettuces, cabbage and kale or heirloom tomatoes.

In fall, when a lot of us become outdoor decorators more than gardeners, use what you find around you to add personality, like pumpkins, gourds, seed pods, grasses, mums, marigolds and more. Most of us are used to mixing in natural elements into our yards and containers in fall, but you can do the same thing in every season, adding flowering branches to outdoor vases, grouping succulents in rustic found vessels around our patio, planting grasses in large containers to move them where you want them for privacy, texture, movement and winter interest.

Look everywhere for inspiration and make it yours.

5. Decide how much your time is worth

We could do a lot of things if we had the time. Make dessert, paint the guest bath, landscape the yard. But sometimes the time it takes to prepare and get the job done is better spent doing other things. Sometimes its best to leave it to someone who does this and does it well, so we can do what we do, including relaxing and enjoying.

So when it comes to figuring out what you can do yourself, start here with this list of common projects our customers often tackle themselves and ones they generally turn to the experts on.

People also love our Top 10 DIY Weekend Projects, with basic directions and lists of things you’ll need.

Or try this, a guide to determine if you’ve got what it takes (time, tools, skills, etc.) to get the job done to your satisfaction.

There’s no wrong answer here.

6. Do a little of the no-fun preventative maintenance

Maintenance work—taking care of what we already have like pruning our trees and shrubs that need it, mowing, mulching, taking care of our tools—isn’t sexy. It’s kind of like buying new tires for your car or getting a new furnace. But when you’re on the road or winter whips in, these investments couldn’t be more worth it, right?

Same thing for your yard and garden. We’re not advocating your garden tools require your undivided attention, just that a little bit goes a long way. Clean off debris, make sure they’re dry before storing them to avoid rust, and tighten or replace any loose parts.

Check our Monthly Gardening Tips for quick and easy tips to take you into each month and stay on top of the things that mean the most to you in your yard and garden.

If you discover something brilliant you’ve learned along the way, please share it with all of us. We’re still experimenting, too and that’s kind of what we love about plants and the people who grow them. We’re all generous in sharing our experience (plus cut flowers and veggies!) and we really just want to make things a little more beautiful.