Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
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Early Fall Gardening Tips
(Posted September 25, 2007)
Watering and Planting
Watering continues to be the central issue in our area gardens, as the area is seriously behind rainfall. This condition does not bode well for the fall and winter seasons.
Landscape plants need regular watering so that they are healthy and ready to withstand the soon to be colder temperatures. As long as the soil remains warm, roots of perennials, shrubs, and trees continue to develop; and whereas, they need less water with the cooler temperatures, they still need adequate water to survive.
It is not advisable to put the hose away yet!
Most perennials can be planted in the fall, which gives them a head start for next season. Just remember to plant them 6 weeks before the first hard freeze - usually late November in this area.
In a "normal" season, fall is the best time to plant shrubs and perennials as their roots have adequate time to develop before the onset of winter.
This year, however, is a different matter; any plant materials, including spring bulbs that are planted now need to be well watered at planting followed by continued, regular watering until the onset of cold weather to ensure their success.
If you are tired of those overgrown and leggy annuals, remove them and put in some perennials to spruce up the garden for fall. Some plants to consider are Japanese anemones, chrysanthemums, ferns, sedum, asters, and ornamental grasses. Now is the time to plant pansies and flowering kale/ cabbage for seasonal interest. And any plant with berries adds some sparkle.
Consider changing out those containers of summer annuals, and replacing them with materials to provide patio color and interest into the winter season.
In large containers, use violas and pansies for flowers, and add a dramatic colored winter kale or two (depending on the container size), some liriope, and perhaps a dwarf Nandina or small boxwood for winter interest.
Remember, making up a container garden is rather like painting - adding some color here and design there. If you can find the "dwarf sweetbox" (sarcococca humilis) - a small evergreen with fragrant white flowers in late winter - this plant will drape nicely over the container edge.
Kept watered and sheltered from the coldest of winter blasts, container gardens will take you into early spring and add interest to the winter landscape.
Old fashioned coral bells (heuchera) works well in container gardens and window boxes, comes in a variety of leaf colors and patterns, and is semi-evergreen in protected locations. Consider this addition to your winter containers.
Fall is the proper time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, and the lesser bulbs such as snowdrops and crocus. With the exception of the smallest bulbs, which need to be planted now, it is best to wait until the soil temperatures are below 60 degrees to put in daffodils and tulips. Daffodils should be planted in October, and tulips can be planted as late as Thanksgiving or until the ground freezes. But remember, for the best selection of bulbs, shop early. If conditions are dry, water in the bulbs upon planting.
Bulbs grow best in full sun (daffodils can prosper in semi-shaded areas) and prefer rich well drained soil. In our clay soil, plant bulbs two to three times their height. A daffodil bulb of 3 inches, for example, should be planted about six inches. If the soil is sandy or lighter, plant more deeply.
An application of specially formulated bulb fertilizer (follow manufacturer's directions) or old fashion blood meal at planting time gives bulbs a boost. Apply a light application of fertilizer when the bulbs emerge in the spring.
Planting bulbs among perennial flowers allows the perennials' emerging foliage to hide the bulbs' foliage as it yellows and dies back in the summer. Remember, squirrels like many bulbs (daffodils are the exception as all parts of the plant are poisonous), so the application of a rodent repellant when planting is helpful in keeping the critters away.
Spring bulbs are readily available at local nurseries and at Home Depot and Lowes as well as on line, where you will find more unusual varieties and at sometimes cheaper prices. Check out the on-line specials at White Flower Farm. Shop early for the best variety and freshest bulbs.
Fertilize perennials and deciduous trees/ shrubs now. As long as they are still in leaf, they can absorb the fertilizer. Evergreen trees and shrubs should be fertilized later in the cooler months.
With the exception of removing dead wood, do not prune shrubs in the fall as this causes them to sprout new growth which will not have time to harden off before winter. Any new growth produced now will suffer and die from winter winds and temperatures.
If your house plants "summered over" outside, you need to consider readying them now for a return inside. It is best to bring them in before you turn on the heat. Check plants for any diseases or insects and treat accordingly before bringing them inside. Gently washing the plant will remove dust and insects. Remember to clean the pots, too!
Most plants will drop some leaves when you bring them inside. With reduced light conditions, houseplants produce slow, if any, growth. Withhold fertilizer and water only when soil is dry to the touch. In early spring, when light conditions improve, begin to fertilize your plants.
If you have a Christmas cactus (or a Thanksgiving cactus), begin holding back on water and fertilizer until buds appear. Also if you kept your cactus outside, the cooler night temperatures and shorter days will trigger buds.
"Horticulture" magazine is a main stay in the gardener's library, having been around for years. The current October/ November issue has great ideas for fall gardening with clear narrative and luscious photographs.
Their web site www.hortmag.com also provides helpful information.
Also, check the National Gardening Associations's web site www.garden.org for gardening supplies and tools.