My 10 Favorite End-of-Summer Gardening Tasks

Fall is what most people consider to be the end of the gardening season. I admit that even I look forward to fall and winter giving me a break from weeding and watering. There are, however, a lot of gardening opportunities in fall that, for the most part, aren’t possible other times of year. Here’s a list of gardening tasks I actually look forward to doing as summer comes to a close. 

1. Collect (harvest) seeds.

I harvest seeds from most of my flowers in August and September. In early August, I start looking for seed pods on the plants to familiarize myself with how and where the seeds are produced (it’s not always obvious), then I check the plants every few days to see if they’re dry enough to harvest. There are no hard-and-fast rules to harvesting seeds because every plant is different, so if you’re not sure, you can find pictures and steps for harvesting seeds of certain plants by doing a Google or Youtube search. I dry my seeds in small, ceramic jars on my kitchen counter for a few days, then store them in small jars with lids. I keep the jars of seeds in a small cabinet in my craft room where it’s dark and cool year-round. 

2. Divide and plant bulbs for spring blooming.

In the PNW, gardeners can usually leave bulbs in the ground year-round, but all bulbs need to be divided at some point for them to continue flowering the following year. You can also multiply plants by dividing and replanting their bulbs in fall. If you want to store bulbs over winter, be sure to store them in a mesh or brown paper bag and put them in a dark, dry, cool place.

3. Prune my fruit trees, conifers such as cedar trees, and woody shrubs.

This made it on my top 10 list because I don’t have very many trees that need pruning. It can be tedious and time-consuming if you don’t keep up with it each year, so to save yourself time and pain, set aside a few sunny days in September or October to tackle all of your pruning. Some people shred their pruned branches or dispose of them at a landscape supply company for a small fee. I have a spot in my yard that is somewhat obscured by trees where I just pile them up after I cut them down to about 3-foot pieces. As they dry, my husband pulls branches from the pile to use for firewood, and the leaves act as a mulch for the trees.

4. Take cuttings and divide plants to propagate for the following year.

When you’re pruning trees, it’s a good time to go ahead and take “cuttings” from fruit trees, hydrangeas, azaleas, camellias, and other shrubs. I’m trying this method of propagation for the first time this year, planting the cuttings in small pots with a mixture of sand and vermiculite (no soil). Once they’ve rooted, I’ll transplant them into cold frames with potting soil where they’ll stay until I plant them in my yard next spring.

Propagating plants by “division” is a much easier process; just make sure you have a good amount of roots on the part you’re transplanting. I divide some plants by digging them up and gently pulling off a section at the roots, then replanting both sections. Some plants can be divided without having to dig up the entire plant–just cut off the new growth at the tuber to remove it from the parent plant, and place it directly in the ground where you want it to grow. I use this method with my ornamental grasses, ferns, and primroses.

A third way to propagate plants is called “layering,” a method that works well with some shrubs. You simply bury a section of a branch in the soil, keeping it attached to its parent plant. The buried section “should” grow roots, allowing you to remove it from the parent plant the following spring to start a new plant. I’m currently trying this method with lavender and have successfully done it with pink heather.

5. Buy discounted plants and seeds at garden centers and nurseries.

All garden centers and nurseries discount a lot of their plants in August to purge their inventory. If you buy annuals this way, try to get ones that you can harvest seeds from since the plant will likely only have a few weeks left to bloom after you get it home. This is also a good way to “experiment” with plants to add to your yard and where to plant them since you can get them at a fraction of their retail price. 

6. Buy other discounted items to add to my flower beds or elsewhere in my yard.

Fall is also the time when garden centers and nurseries have “sales” on many of their yard decor and other gardening items. I also get discounted garden decor at craft stores such as JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, and Hobby Lobby in the fall.

7. Clean up my potting area.

I realize this doesn’t sound like much fun, but I use it as a time to reassess my potting area, which is a constant work in progress. I think about how well my storage systems worked, what items need to be stored better, and clean up the space by removing leaves and other debris. It’s also a good time to make a list of items I need for next year.

8.  Plant my cold frames.

My husband and I built cold frames this summer, so I’m looking forward to using them. They’ll provide a warm place to root plant cuttings and germinate seeds in cold months, giving the plants more time to grow before they are placed in the ground.

9. Go to fall plant sales at public gardens. 

Many public gardens and garden clubs hold plant sales in spring and fall where they sell plants growing in their gardens as well as plants from nurseries in the PNW region. I look forward to these every year. It’s a good way to get plants at a lower price than you would pay elsewhere and often the only place to purchase plants (rather than seeds) that are growing in the public gardens.

10. Make a gardening to-do list for spring.

I’m a list person, so making a gardening to-do list is a natural thing for me. I actually start with one in fall and modify it throughout the following year. If this isn’t one of your favorite things to do, then just keep the list short (or maybe even just put a few things on a sticky note on the frig) and only include the things you absolutely know you need to do, or want to do, come spring. If you have a lot of garden project ideas, consider having a to-do list and a separate list for “future projects.”

If you have other tasks you do in the garden at the end of summer, please share them in the comments section at the end of this post.

The West Sound Home and Garden and Pacific Horticulture websites are other great sources of information for gardening in the Pacific Northwest.

*I am a contributing blogger to the WSHG website. Click here to see my blog posts on that site.