As daytime and nighttime temperatures decrease and trees shed their leaves, many of us think of slowing down. The chill of winter is on the horizon; skies turn grey and the amount of useable daylight drops rapidly. Most of us turn inward, both physically and mentally.
But for gardeners autumn is the not the time to put away the trowel and shovel — it happens to be the most critical season for garden and landscape maintenance. Time to evaluate what has or hasn’t worked, dig up, rearrange and divide, add new perennials and shrubs and plant spring bulbs.
Considering the year we’ve had – very dry due to inadequate rainfall – it is essential that we keep up the watering. That means leaving the sprinkler set on the lawn and continue to water the perennials, the trees (especially young trees), woody plants and the hydrangea through October into the first week of November or until the first frost.
Begin to put the garden to bed in mid-October and continue doing so until the ground freezes in November.
- Leave the leaves. Keep the perennial beds smothered in leaves all winter long. Leaves act as a protective blanket. That way, the underground temperature stays relatively stable. Shifts in temperature cause plants to heave out of the ground. Heavy leaf cover (12-18”) prevents this.
- Don’t feed the perennials until next spring. Let the green and yellow leaves remain to feed the roots. Cut back when flowers fade and leaves turn brown. Leave the seed heads of the echinacea, rudebeckia and sunflowers for the birds.
- Deadhead, stake and weed. Burn or discard diseased leaves. Apply compost where you want to improve the soil. Selectively cut back perennials for winter interest.
- Plant and transplant peonies, iris and other bulbous or tuberous plants. Keep all transplants watered until the ground freezes. That goes for all perennials but not for newly planted bulbs. After an initial watering, bulbs do not like a lot of water; let them get moisture naturally from rainfall.
A few more words about bulbs. Yes tulips are the world’s most popular bulbs but in this part of the country our beds and borders are under attack by deer and rodents who devastate our tulips and crocus plantings. Think about alternatives such as daffodils, allium, camassia, grape hyacinth, muscari, amaryllis, snowflakes and snowdrops. Don’t restrict your planting to the ground. Bulbs are wonderful in pots, flowerboxes and containers.
- Avoid planting bulbs in rigid soldier-like rows. Generous groupings resembling bouquets are far more dramatic than planting in a straight line or a smattering here and there. Combine different bulbs by planting low-growing grape hyacinths and scillas in front of taller tulips, daffodils and allium.
- Try planting in layers. Place large later spring bulbs, like tulips, daffodils, lilies and ornamental onions at the bottom of the planting hole (8” deep), cover them with a layer of soil, then, on top, plant smaller earlier flowering bulbs like scilla that require shallow planting (3-4”).
For more bountiful-looking groupings, position bulb drifts in triangular patterns in the garden with the point of the triangle showing towards the front.
Next spring when your tulips, daffodils, lilies and allium open, you’re bound to have a few clunkers. When you see spots in the border where bulbs did not come up, cover those bare spots with landscaping stones. Then in the fall, you’ll know exactly where to plant replacement bulbs.
I am not a professional garden designer, landscape architect or horticulturalist. I am, for the most part, self-taught.
I don’t garden for a living, I live for gardening.
I came to gardening late in life, so I am making up for lost time.
I hope to share my insights, resources, and gardening experiences. My aim is to educate, enlighten and inspire gardeners to take chances, break new ground, dig deeper and stretch themselves.
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