The Woodland ? Xeriscape a Garden ? Perennial Borders ? Woody Plants

Cooler days mean it?s time to get new plants into the soil while it is still warm and full of oxygen. In the olden days (that would be seven or eight years ago) this was the week to close up the garden and retreat gently indoors. Well, there has been a complete revolution in attitude. Now autumn means thinking seriously of what you want to have blooming next year and getting a head start by planting right now. The nurseries view this time of year as another selling season and there are some pretty good plants available, many of them on sale.

Chances are you?ll have to water less often with autumn planting than in spring. But you do have to water plants in, and you must water them on a regular basis if there?s no rain. The upside is that plants won?t have to put up with heat waves and blazing sun so these demands will likely be less onerous. Most bugs are heading off to la-la land and much less bothersome. Remember with both fall planted perennials and with plants you divide now: mulch heavily once the ground has frozen.

Spring and summer blooming plants are the soundest investment for immediate planting, though you can use just about anything you want. It?s easy to spot where they should go-right in all those holes where there?s something boring or you can see the soil. First, decide what colours are needed to perk up a whole section and then decide whether you want perennials, woody plants or a combination of the two.

Most of the country has had drought conditions this year and perhaps for the last few. You can see the stress on plants and trees everywhere. Don?t let them go into winter without some tender hand watering. This is not only most perfect time of the year to work in the garden, it?s a good one to rethink your gardening habits. So make the most of planting now and you?ll reap extra benefits next year when you?ve got strong healthy plants ready to spring from the soil as soon as things warm up. We gardeners are always looking into the future and seeing beauty.

The Woodland

Planting a woodland now may be a little confusing. Nurseries carrying native plants will show you a pot with something scraggly coming out of it and tell you it?s an erythronium. Trust them, it is. Native plants are notoriously difficult to transplant and it?s important to find a trustworthy grower who propagates in the nursery and doesn?t drag them from the wild.

Keep in mind that many spring bloomers such as erythroniums are ephemerals and only last long enough to attract insects for fertilization and then go into dormancy once the job is done. Trillium, uvularia, and tiarella are all wonderful woodland plants and keep their foliage after a great spring show. Add Solomon seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) and ferns to this mix to give a cover-up when the ephemerals disappear for the summer.

There are a staggering number of ferns now available including these terrific candidates for next year?s garden:

  • Male fern, Drypopteris felix-mas;
  • licorice fern, Polypodium glycyrrhiza (strictly for warm climates);
  • Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides;
  • and the Japanese painted fern, Athyrium nipponicum pictum, which has silver tones.

It?s impossible to go wrong with any of them.

Xeriscape a Garden

This is a good time to decide on whether or not you want to have a more xeriscape garden. This is grouping plants with low water requirements together. Getting rid of some grass will help lower your water needs and so will using native plants, perennials with small leaves (the bigger the leaf the more water needed), anything fuzzy or grey (lavender, artemisias and sages), and plants with succulent or waxy surfaces (sedums and sempervivums). You can give a xeriscape bed coherence by covering the soil with 10 cm of gravel. The plants will like the warmth of the stones (and the consequent nutrients) and will keep weeds from developing.

Some xeric plants:

  • yarrow, achillea;
  • Gaura lindheimeri;
  • coreopsis;
  • Dianthus;
  • purple cone flower, Echinacea purpurea;
  • daylilies and lamb?s ears, Stachys spp.;
  • euphorbia and nepetas (which are in the salvia family).

Perennial Borders

Perennials are where you can have a lot of fun. Stick them everywhere you?ve been devoting to annuals. They are more expensive to start with, cheaper in the long run. You can put annuals in containers next spring because you don?t want to be without them either.

No matter what you buy, cut the plant to within 7 cm of the base. You do not want the plant to waste any effort on trying to maintain a bloom or even get to the blooming stage if you?re in a warm enough place. All efforts should go into making a solid root system.

Give it a good soak and then plant at exactly the same depth and width as the pot. Don?t mess about cultivating the soil, this is tucking plants in and the natural processes of the soil will do the rest of the work. If the soil needs amending, add it to the surface, but don?t fertilize this late in the season. Just water deeply.

Here are some wonderful plants that will terrific this time next year:

  • Boltonia asteroides, looks like an aster but is twice as high;
  • any of the new phloxes that don?t get mildewed such as ?David? (pure white) or ?Mount Fuji?;
  • all of the new forms of toad lilies, Trycertis spp are candidates for great autumn performances.

What to divide:

Fall is a good time to plant or divide peonies. People keep repeating the axiom that peonies don?t like to be moved. This is not true-they don?t seem to mind at all-so don?t be intimidated by this. Cut back any foliage left, chop the root system in half or three making sure you have at least three eyes (the places where the buds develop) on the root stock. They should be planted in rich soil dug to about 30 cm deep. Place the roots about a centimeter below the surface. Don?t mulch this year. Again water deeply after planting.

Hostas, along with almost any other perennial not in bloom can be divided. Dig them up with a good bit of soil attached to the root, make a hole that will comfortably fit the divided plant and pop it in place. Back fill with the soil removed, and then water. Again don?t amend the soil. It isn?t necessary and a lot of digging about will only encourage weed production.

Woody Plants

This is a great time to plant roses. Shrubs such as buddleia which is a late summer early autumn bloomer in this area doesn?t need a lot of watering. Russian Sage or perovskia is another with low water needs, and shines silver in full sun and has bright blue blooms in autumn.

Some xeric woody plants:

  • callicarpa;
  • Hybiscus syriacus or hardy hybiscus;
  • eastern redbud Cercis canadensis;
  • nannyberry or Viburnum lentago;
  • and Russian olive, Eleagnus angustifolia are all striking plants.

How to Choose Woodies:

In dry areas, nursery stock has suffered along with gardens. This year you can?t always expect to find something in first class condition. Look for plants that have been as well cared for as possible. If you are unsure about the health of a plant, find out what kind of a guarantee you can get. Look for a tree that hasn?t had plastic surrounding its trunk all summer. Insects just love to get under there to burrow and bore. If you must have one with plastic check underneath to make sure it?s healthy looking with a straight form and leaves that look relatively unscathed.

To plant trees and shrubs use the following technique:

Soak the plant as soon as you get it home. Then measure and dig a hole to the same depth, and no more than twice as wide. Though you can mush up the bottom of the planting hole don?t add any amendments. Plant slightly higher than ground level. This is called ?planting proud? and it means the water will fall away from the base rather than running trunkwards risking rot. Make sure the base of the plant is just slightly above the ground level (you can see the ring that indicates this above the root system). A mistake far too many gardeners make is planting the base below soil level. Depend on it, they will start to struggle within a week or two.

Use a hose and dribble water in slowly for an hour or more. Keep it watered deeply for a few weeks and slow it down to once a week. When there?s a sign of frost, stop. And then get out the mulch.