By Stephanie Hudak, Columnist
The long hot days of summer are fast becoming just a memory as the cool days of fall are upon us. But that doesn’t mean that we can just curl up in front of the fireplace and read gardening books. There is much that can, and probably needs, to be done to put our gardens to bed and prepare for spring.
There hasn’t been much rain these last few weeks, so if your yard is like most of ours, it is a hard, dry clay bed. When we do get rain and it softens, you can prepare the soil for planting trees and shrubs.
Ensuring that there is proper drainage, fall is the best time to plant the “woodies”, allowing them time to establish their roots before spring when the new leaves demand lots of food from the soil. Remember to dig the hole a little deeper than the root ball but twice as wide; amend heavy soil as necessary, mixing sand or compost with the original soil. The new plants will enjoy the rains of fall and winter, rewarding you with lush growth in the spring.
It’s still not too late to prune climbing roses by cutting back the lateral branches to two or three nodes — but don’t wait much longer. Mid November is generally when we get our first real frost so there is time to gather any flowers you want to dry, but consider leaving some with seed heads for the birds. Oh, and you did start bringing in your porch plants, right? There is also still time to plant spring bulbs; adding a handful of small rocks in the bottom of the hole will help to discourage rodents from eating them. I personally don’t have much luck storing caladium bulbs, but I’m going to try it this year in order to save some of the ones in the city containers.
The advice I get is to dust them with a fungicide and sulfur before putting them in a cool, dry place. I’ve heard that using egg cartons is a good way to keep them sorted.
Have you planted your pansies yet? Don’t wait too much longer. T
hey need time to get their roots established before the really cold weather comes so they’ll be able to provide us with a grand show when the days warm up a bit.
Are you planting parsley with those pansies – they make a great pairing. It is another tough plant that likes cold weather, and come spring the butterflies will thank you for sharing that bit of greenery.
Enjoy the beautiful colors of the trees as they take on their fall finery. Then when the leaves flutter to the ground, gather them up for your compost bins. It is preferable to chop them up before adding to the bins and your mower will be great help with that job. Don’t have an official bin? Keep a pile of mulched leaves in the corner of your yard; let them break down naturally and use them as a mulch or additive in the spring. By the way, don’t compost peony foliage.
I hear tell that it spreads botrytis – a fungal disease. Are you like me and have lots of “ladies in waiting” sitting on your patio – these are the plants that you just had to buy at the nursery, intending to plant them eventually — get them in the ground now. Pots of plants left sitting about in winter have a tendency to freeze, killing the roots. In the ground they have the surrounding soil to insulate them. Without rain, and let’s face it, you aren’t going to remember to water them in December, they are even more likely to suffer damage from the cold.
If you just can’t get them planted, huddle the pots all together and out of prevailing winds. Unless you are planting winter rye into your warm season grass, you can cross that chore off your list….nothing to do now but watch the weeds grow. You know, the ones you forgot to put pre-emergence on. If you truly did forget – as I did – then making an effort to keep the seed heads off the plants will help somewhat in controlling those pests. I love the purple haze that a large crop of henbit provides but, yikes, think of all the “babies” that will come from that moment of joy. Mowing them down before they go to seed will help. Speaking of mowing, if you aren’t going to use the mower, or any of your other lawn equipment, be sure to drain the gasoline so that it doesn’t damage the working parts.
There is a valve that can be added to the line to make that job easier. One last word about planting trees or shrubs – please, please, please – keep in mind the ultimate size of the plant. So many times I see a tree that will get a head of 30 feet planted just a few feet from the house. You may desire “instant shade” but consider that unless you want to damage your home and roof, you will continually have to “whack back” those branches. And foundation plants need room to spread also. It may look bare to put those three-gallon plants six or eight feet apart now but at maturity they will be one big tangled mess. Do your homework now and you will be rewarded with an easy maintenance landscape.
So while you are out there in the garden finishing the fall cleanup chores, be sure to pause, really see the colors around you and listen to the sound of the birds as they sing their last song for the year. Hugs to all – spread them around. Christmas gift idea: Garden Rocker from Toolmonger.com. Molded plastic seat with curved bottom that allows to and fro movement – low to the ground for working beds. Good book: Start With The Soil by Grace Gershuny – organic gardener’s guide to improving soil. Lots more than just info on soil. Easy to read, covering lots of topics.