After the hot, humid heat waves that lingered this summer in San Diego, fall is looking better than ever for spending time outside. Whether you’re a master gardener or simply are looking forward to the cool evenings ahead, we’ve got expert advice on getting your backyard in tip-top shape for autumn.
“Since pulling myself up to the handles of my first plastic lawnmower, I can remember the feeling of working in gardens,” says Bill Schnetz of Schnetz Landscape. “In the years since, I’ve learned that fall is the greatest season — just feeling it in the air makes you happy to be alive.”
Schnetz says now is the time to prepare gardens for more temperate weather. For vegetable plots, that means pulling out last season’s crop, mixing in fresh compost and organic fertilizer, checking irrigation, and planting winter crops. Autumn is also an ideal opportunity to prune overgrown trees and shrubs, and to over-seed sun-damaged lawns.
“Fall is the best time to plant anything but tropical plants,” says Schnetz. “Lawns, wildflowers, perennials, natives, succulents, vines, shrubs, and trees all benefit from the season’s warm soil temperatures, cooler days, and coming rains.”
His secret to a green thumb? “You have to putter in the garden for at least 15 minutes every other day,” says Schnetz. “Once a week doesn’t cut it.”
Ryan Prange, the award-winning designer behind Falling Waters Landscape, recommends that homeowners firescape their yards as we enter the season notorious for hot Santa Ana winds and wildfires. “The best way to defend your home is a landscape that defends your home,” Prange explains.
Fire-wise landscaping includes incorporating low-growing, water-retaining plants such as ice plants and ivy geranium, as well as fire-resistant options like sage, yarrow, lavender, succulents, and certain native shrubs and trees; the idea is to avoid leaves and stems that are resinous, waxy, or oily, especially near any flammable structures. Hardscaping and water features can also provide defensible space while adding to the attractiveness of your landscape. For more information, contact your local fire department, which can provide specific guidelines for your area.
Once you’ve checked off all of these practical landscaping suggestions for fall, you can turn your attention to enjoying the beautiful space you’ve created.
“As nights cool off, it’s so nice to be outside,” says Prange, who recommends warming up around an outdoor fire pit, fireplace, or heater. “Consider updating your cushions and make sure you have plenty of blankets to stay cozy.”
One simple addition that makes a huge difference is outdoor lighting, adds Prange, who has his eye on Restoration Hardware’s 50′ Vintage Light String, which calls to mind the lights seen in Italy’s piazzas. “It’s really transformative,” he says.
To block chilly breezes, Schnetz suggests garden walls, screens, and drop-down or pull curtains. And, for the ultimate luxury in outdoor entertaining, he encourages installing a wood oven. “Your guests will empty right out of the kitchen and on to the patio or terrace,” Schnetz says. “The evening hours are the most rewarding part of having a nice garden.” ANNAMARIA STEPHENS