Putting the Garden to Bed

October 13th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Choose shade trees for fall color now and plant them while the soil is still warm.
    • Wildflower seed broadcast with the first rains will take root over the winter and burst into flower next spring.
    • Divide overgrown water lilies and irises. Repot using heavy soil with no organic matter or packaged Aquatic Planting Medium.
    • It’s time to plant tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and many other flower bulbs for beautiful blooms next spring.
    • Compost your leaves as they fall, don’t burn them! Leaves make wonderful compost that breaks down into rich humus by next summer.

Putting the Garden to Bed

Fall is a glorious time of year to work in the yard. It is the ideal time to take stock of your perennial gardens and correct mistakes and problem areas, dig up, rearrange and divide existing plants, add new perennials and shrubs, and plant spring blooming bulbs. As fall winds down and this work is completed, you will turn to the task of putting your garden to bed. Completing a few simple tasks now will not only prepare your garden to withstand the winter but also help plan for next spring.

In the vegetable garden, remove any dead plants and place them in the compost pile. Then turn the soil and plant a winter-hardy green manure crop such as crimson clover, fava beans or annual rye grass. Another option is to turn the soil and then spread a thick layer of compost or shredded leaves on the bed. Both methods will protect and improve the soil over the winter. By preparing the beds in the fall, you can take advantage of the first available planting days in late winter and early spring to plant early peas, spinach, cabbage and lettuce.

Divide artichoke plants which have been in the ground for three or four years. Mulch established plants with steer manure. Garlic should be planted now for an easy crop that you can harvest next spring.

In your flower beds, wait until perennials have died back before cutting them back almost to ground level, and compost the cuttings that aren’t diseased. The rule of thumb is: “If it’s yellow or brown, cut it down, if it’s green, leave it alone.” Plants that remain green through the winter can be cut back in March when they begin to grow again.

Don’t cut ornamental grasses back until late winter or early spring. Wait until new growth is beginning to emerge from the base of the plant. The stems of perennials like black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum and grasses add winter interest to the garden, and their seeds provide food for wintering birds.

This is a good time to divide overgrown perennials. It’s also a good time to choose and plant some new varieties, and be sure to add some spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips.

Remove the leaves of hostas, daylilies and agapanthus as these tend to turn into a soggy mess by spring and provide shelter for slugs. Rake up fallen rose leaves and remove them from the garden area as they frequently have disease spores.

Dig up dahlia bulbs when they are finished blooming. Begonia bulbs should be lifted if they are in the ground. If they are in containers, you can cut back the foliage after frost and store the pots in a dry, frost-free area.

Preparing the garden for the winter ahead ensures that it gets off to a good start next season. Come the spring, when you have so much work to do, you will be glad that your garden is clean and ready for a new year.

The Four-Season Garden

September 30th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Fall is for planting. Make the most of the nice fall weather and plant trees, shrubs, ground covers and bulbs now during the fall planting season.
    • Cover crops should be planted in the garden as soon as you pull out summer crops. They will feed the soil and prevent erosion over the winter.
    • Replace tired petunias with bright pansies, snapdragons, calendulas and stock for garden color this fall and winter.
    • If your bearded iris blooms were sparse this year or the plants are more than 4 years old, now is the time to divide and replant them. Mix some bone meal into the soil, and plant the rhizomes just beneath the soil surface.
    • Chrysanthemums are the brightest flowers for the fall garden. Plant some now.

The Four-Season Garden

Gardens can be beautiful in all four seasons, not just spring and summer. By choosing trees and shrubs with interesting fall and winter leaves and bark, you can make your landscape attractive year-round.

Seasonal change is vital to a four-season garden. Brilliant fall foliage and berries are just as important as stunning spring blossoms. Plants that offer an interesting aspect in more than one season are especially important in small gardens.

Japanese maple trees turn a variety of reds and burgundy shades in the fall. Their autumn foliage is a glowing contrast against evergreens and faded perennials. These trees are also attractive in winter with interesting branch patterns, and in some varieties, colorful bark.

Heavenly bamboo is another multi-season plant. It is upright and evergreen, lending a graceful texture to the garden. In the spring it has white flowers which turn to red berries that hang on through the winter and attract migrating birds. Its bright red fall foliage is a colorful accent.

Ornamental grasses add interest to a garden at any time of year. Fall foliage and colorful plumes, with fuzzy seed heads that rustle in the slightest breeze, provide an attractive contrast to evergreens and brightly-colored shrubs. Use them as accent plants where their golden foliage can shine in the winter months. Feather Reed Gras, with its tall, stately plumes, is particularly striking.

Colorful fruits and berries also brighten the colder months. There are many trees and shrubs to choose from. Cotoneaster, barberry, pyracantha and holly are outstanding shrubs. Strawberry tree produces bright red berries throughout the year. Crabapples, hawthorn trees and persimmons have colorful fruit that hangs on after the leaves have fallen.

Many trees have interesting bark. Birch and alder trees have white bark. The bark on Paper birch is chalk white. Sycamores have brown and white flaking bark, Trident maple has peeling bark in gray, orange and brown, while Paperbark maple has peeling cinnamon bark. Crape myrtle trees also have peeling, cinnamon-colored bark, and few trees have more beautiful bark than our native madrones.

‘Sango Kaku’ Japanese maple is striking in winter with coral-orange-red stems and redtwig dogwood has bright red branches. Willow trees have bright yellow branches that stand out in the winter landscape.

Some trees have attractive winter silhouettes. Dogwood trees have a layered branching pattern that is very decorative in winter. Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick has fantastically gnarled and twisted branches that are a real curiosity. Of course oak trees are some of the most wonderful trees to enjoy in the winter, with their picturesque, twisted branches.

Try to design your landscape with an artist’s eye, blending fall colors and contrasting patterns of leaves and branches to make yours a four-season garden.

Chrysanthemums are Fall Beauties

September 19th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Fall is for planting! Trees, shrubs and perennials planted now will grow twice as much next year as those planted next spring.
    • Apples, pears and other fruit trees can be planted in the fall from containers to get a head start on next spring.
    • When blackberry vines are done fruiting, prune back the canes that bore fruit this summer. Twine young canes around the fence or trellis.
    • Keep apples picked up from under the trees to help control the spread of codling moths which make wormy apples.
    • Fertilize lawns now to build up root systems for a healthy lawn.

Chrysanthemums are Fall Beauties

The Greeks named it chrysos anthos—gold flower. The Chinese have revered it for thousands of years and the Japanese made it their national flower in 910 A.D. Yes, chrysanthemums or “mums” as they are commonly called have been around for a long time.

Chrysanthemums make some of the best cut flowers around. They last up to two weeks in the vase, and give fresh color to the garden when nearly all other perennials have finished their show for the year. In your garden, they will grow 2 to 4 feet tall, and have long stems for cutting.

Fall-blooming mums come in a dazzling array of colors. The “fall colors” of yellow, gold, rust and magenta are very appealing. But they also come in pink, white, purple and lavender.

There are “cushion” or “button” types which form low, bushy plants covered with blossoms as well as tall varieties with larger flowers. Most mums have fully double with flowers 2 to 4 inches across.

When you buy mums, they are tight, compact plants in 4-inch pots, blooming at about 8 inches tall. They will never do this again! The growers treat them with growth regulators that keep them very compact so they will bloom nicely in a small pot. In your garden, they will grow 2 to 4 feet tall, and have long stems for cutting.

These taller varieties need frequent pinching until midsummer to encourage full, stocky plants and large blooms, and they should be staked to keep their tall stems from breaking.

Mums will bloom with little care, but they need pinching to grow bushy plants and have an abundance of flowers. Without pinching, they will grow skinny stalks and have few flowers. Pinching forces branching, and therefore, more flowers. No pinching should be done after mid-July to allow plants time to set flower buds for fall.

To encourage prize-winning blooms, pinch all but one bud per stem. Remember to remove dead flower heads to force more flower production. Don’t overhead water because this encourage blossom rot.

When mums have finished flowering, cut the stalks down to a few inches above the ground. They will come back year after year with more beautiful flowers.

Plant mums in the flower beds along the house or by a fence in a sunny place. The soil should drain well and be enriched with compost. Set plants 18 inches to 2 feet apart and feed them monthly through the spring and summer until buds form. Stop feeding when the buds show color.

Fill a container by the entry with bright colored chrysanthemums or fill a flower bed with a riot of vibrantly colored mums.

Enjoy this final burst of color in your flower garden, and cut some long-stemmed beauties to admire indoors.