Crisp, cooler air and sunny days make fall, which has officially arrived, the perfect season to tidy up your garden and tools, refresh your lawn, and enliven your landscape by planting a new tree or shrub.
You even can get a jump on next year's garden by planting spring-blooming bulbs and tilling before the ground freezes.
For instant gratification, cole crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi; pumpkins corn shocks, and scarecrows take center stage.
Here's a fall to-do list to get your outdoors in shape:
Plant trees, shrubs and grasses: Cooler weather gives these transplants and seeds the best chance to get established with minimal heat stress and dehydration. This is the time of year that many plants take hold and store up well-rooted energy.
Explore a few local garden centers for ideas. For instance, King's Gardens, 4560 Nicholasville Road, Lexington maintains a Facebook page and newsletter, which is on top of the season and packed this week with information about fresh shipments of ornamental grasses, maples and those popular Forest Pansy redbuds, which bear gorgeous heart-shaped purple leaves in the spring.
Plant spring bulbs: Garden shops and mail-order nurseries are overflowing with bulbs that will reward you with blooms in the spring.
To engage small children, try planting some early blooming crocus, which can be tucked in next to a sidewalk.
If you have a squirrel problem, plant daffodils and jonquils; many critters find them unappealing.
If buying locally, give the bulbs, corms or rhizomes a pinch and a sniff to be sure they are firm and not rotting. If ordering online, stick with reputable sources, and check that the bulbs are suitable for USDA hardiness Zone 6, which covers most of Kentucky.
A few of my favorite, information-packed bulb sources are White Flower Farm, Whiteflowerfarm.com; Easy to Grow Bulbs, Easytogrowbulbs.com; Brent and Becky's Bulbs, Brentandbeckysbulbs.com; and Old House Gardens, Oldhousegardens.com, purveyors of antique bulbs and collectors of their histories.
Clean out and spiff up: "Fall cleaning" is an annual garden maintenance ritual. Destroy post-harvest tomato and squash vines that might carry disease or insect infestations through winter. Clean and oil hand tools.
It's a good time to paint wood handles, too. I am coloring mine red so they stand out more easily when they're hidden in next year's weed patches.
Another idea for getting ahead: Remember when the weather afforded us little opportunity to till and work garden soil this spring? Some folks actually do a late fall plowing, before the ground freezes, and cover the ground with a light mulch so their garden plot is set to go in the spring.
Plant cole crops and covers: If you want a garden that keeps growing a bit longer, here are two suggestions.
Cool weather-loving cole crops include broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage. Giant, frilly-leaf ornamental cabbage heads can be found for sale at garden shops now, as well as vegetable transplants.
To extend the growing even further, experiment with row covers and small hothouses. These translucent, solar-heat- holding tent and tunnel structures will keep your plants warm for a while longer. For ideas, have a look at the catalog from Gardener's Supply Co., Gardeners.com.
To make your own cover, Virginia garden writer Barbara Pleasant has a how-to at her Web site, Barbarapleasant.com/homesewnrowcovers.html.
Also most useful is a publication from the Cooperative Extension Service called "Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky." It's a comprehensive introduction to these and other gardening ideas. Find it online as a PDF at Bit.ly/7LhPzC.
Move tender plants indoors: Temperatures have gotten chilly this week, so be ready to move your houseplants indoors soon. Give them a good once-over to check for hitchhiking insects, and isolate the plants for a few days just to be sure you've found any infestations. Most plants need to be placed within about 4 feet of a sunny outside window to get enough light to thrive inside.