Autumnal yearnings can start pretty early in the season. From the end of August on, somewhere in this country, autumn is burgeoning. This is the ideal time to think about planning the fall garden and what should be done in the next month or more. This is the time of year when the garden has its most intense colour and texture. Both these qualities should emphasized in every garden, but use caution since they tend to become more obvious as the season develops. This can result in an eyeball-searing clash of foliage colours. Putting a stunning orange up against a red brick house doesn?t look great, nor will it necessarily look good with other oranges and reds.
Autumnal colours come from the tannins in the leaves and when the plant stops manufacturing chlorophyll the other colours in the leaves are revealed. It is one of nature?s magic tricks that keep the gardener fascinated for this most scent-infused season. Look for plants just turning into their fall colours to be sure of what you?re getting. Play decorator: Pick a tone or combination you want (orange and purple are dramatic), then scout for plants with these hues. It?s tricky at first but build on what you?ve got. For instance, if you have a Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp), its autumn tones have a lot of yellow in them. Put it near a plant with lots of yellow in the leaf (in Southern Ontario an Oxydendron; in Manitoba, a birch) for a harmonious effect.
Because some plants are being wildly outr? in colours you?ll begin to notice the textures of other plants, especially the silvery ones such as the wonderful annual Plectranthus ?Mona Lavender?. It has silvery leaves with a purple underbelly and neon blue flowers. When you put this around near other plants in the same range of tones you get an eye popping effect. Lavender, Caryopteris and Russian sage (Perovskia spp) are just three companions to consider to tone down stronger colours. Use ornamental grasses for the tall feathery blooms which are at their peak in fall. They contrast beautifully with still plants such as elders (birds love both of them), evergreens and Japanese maples. Prairie dropseed (Sporobolos heterolepsis); Red switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and Moor grass (Molinia caerulea) are large dramatic grasses which don?t get rambunctious and spread
Fall is such a good second planting season: it pretty much guarantees success in the garden. The soil is still warm and full of oxygen; it?s cool enough to enjoy the work; and the scents are positively intoxicating. Check out the nurseries: Some will have new plants especially good for installing right now such as trees and shrubs; others will have plants on sale. Choose ones that have been well cared for (they won?t have a lot of weeds choking the pot, or roots girdling each other and strangling the plant). Knock the bottom of the container: if it sounds hollow it hasn?t been watered properly.
When buying perennials, cut off the flowering part of the plant. This will encourage new root growth instead of blooming its head off. Trim relatively close to the base of the plants and watch out for it next year. It will build a good root system and be gorgeous next year.
You can get a last flush from annuals in pots or the border by nipping about and deadheading them. Little Japanese scissors will do the trick very nicely. So will clean fingernails.
- Don?t do too much. You must let leaves alone unless they will mat and cut off plants from light and moisture. Neither over-tidy nor be sloppy. Cut off fleshy foliage; but leave stalks with seeds and blooms for the birds to use over winter. And get rids of all the weeds.
- Make sure that evergreens are watered heavily before the deep frosts still the earth. A good long slow drizzle with the hose will help them get through the winter.
- Divide spring blooming perennials now. Cut back the blooms and water deeply.
Composting Compost never ends and autumn is no time to give it up. Do the following to fill up compost bin such as:
- Gather up everything from the vegetable garden and the containers and dump it all into the compost. Stir it up and water it thoroughly.
- Grab all the leaves you can find (yours and everyone else?s)and grind them up with a whipper snipper or a mulching mower, the load them into the compost as well. If it?s full store them in xxxxxxx bags until you can toss them into the composter.
- Add weeds and any mushy parts of plants (leaves off hostas for instance).
- Cover with a thick layer of manure or finished compost. Leave it alone and it will heat up and stay hot over the winter and be broken down by spring.
Mulching: Wait until there has been a hard frost on the ground (you?ll see and feel it) before you add a layer of mulch around plants. This will protect the habitat for bees looking for a place to winter (they like to dig holes).
Mulch: please don?t use the dyed stuff it looks awful especially the bright brick colour. Use plain finely ground cedar chips and make sure they come from your area (some chips from other parts of North America carry diseases etc)
Make your own mulch: combine your own or the city?s compost with a good mix of chopped-up leaves and if you have any well-composted manure some of that too. Get one of those big drop cloths and mix this all together, then distribute it around the garden. A good rule of thumb is to put mulch around vulnerable plants and shrubs before you cover up the soil completely. It?s fine if you have it close to perennials, but don?t butt mulch right up against the woody stems of shrubs or the trunks of trees. Too much temptation for little animals to rest for the winter in there and nibble away.
DON?T. At this time of year you don?t want to encourage new growth, you want to protect the plants as they go into dormancy. Fertilizing should stop at the end of July anyway.
Lawns: Use Pefectly Natural Winter Prep fertilizer on the lawn, but be very careful to follow the instructions to the letter.
Stop using those secateurs. Leave shrubs and trees alone so they don?t divert energy into protecting new wounds or producing any new growth. Plants should be putting all their strength into making their roots. Wait until plants have gone into dormancy to trim hedges and trees such as maples and birch which should not be pruned in spring.
You don?t need to be conventional when it comes to putting together autumn containers: just don?t be confined to ornamental kales and cabbages. Add gourds of many colours and shapes; twigs with coloured bark (which can go on into winter successfully) from dogwoods; and stick them in around plumey annual grasses such as Pennisetum rubrum or the newly popular millets with droopy tall seed heads. There are several good ones Foxtail millet is a stunner.
Some of the best bulbs are hardy and will naturalize. This means you plant a few dozen in one area and years later you have hundreds if not thousands.
The following are the best and all these bulbs are great because there?s no unsightly leftover mess of foliage.
- Scilla sibirica comes in cobalt blue
- Chionodoxa gracilis, glory of the now,? blue and white starry creatures and the foliage disappears when they are finished.
- Try species narcissus such as N. bulbocodium and the exquisite cultivars such? Narcissus ?Pipit?,? N. ?February Gold? and N. ?Jack Snipe?.
- Tulipa tarda (white with yellow tips), T. kaufammaniana (multi-coloured),? and? T. turkestanica (cream) are all species tulips so make sure they have been bred to be sold and not dug out of the wild (check your nursery person).? They are tough, squirrel-resistant and will slowly spread to make a really good show.
Fabulous tulips: Don?t let squirrels and other animals defeat you: Plant these very deep (10inches or more) and? they will be safe. Tulipa ?Prinses Irene? (orange striated with green); T. ?Black Parrot? dramatic purple-black; T. ?Ballerina? (orange and a stunner with the former). T. ?Spring Green? (white with a green stripe and one of the few tulips I?ve found to be almost perennial).
Prepare an area to a depth equal to three times the height of the bulb itself.? Dig deeper the later you want the bulbs to appear. Plant deeper if you are in colder parts of the country. Don?t bother adding anything to the hole, bulbs have all nourishment they need for this first year. Make sure the planting areas look undisturbed:? this is what attracts animals. Pull leaves over the disturbed soil, add a little blood meal, put chicken wire over it to discourage busy paws. And pray they weren?t watching while you planted.
What to Force:
- paperwhite narcissus (though watch these, too many and the scent can be yucky)
- grape hyacinths
- species narcissus
- Leave the tulips to your local corner store, though if you decide to force them put the bulbs flat against the sides so you?ll have attractive foliage at the edges.
Buy healthy large bulbs and keep them in the fridge of another cool spot until October 1st. Then choose containers as wide as the flowering bulb will become tall.
- Use a potting soil with coir in it (not peat moss) to help hold moisture; you don?t need to feed these bulbs, they are totally self sufficient. (Soil Sponge is a coir product).
- Plant so the tips are showing (don?t drown them in soil). Moisten
- Keep them in a cool dark place for 12 weeks (in a basement or shed where they won?t freeze). You can store these pots in plastic bags with lots of holes for air circulation.
- Start bringing them into the warmth and water 3 to 4 weeks before you want blooms. Make sure it?s a bright spot out of direct sunlight. Cool nights are important once they come into bloom.
- After blooming, dump the bulbs into the compost: they?ve done their job. If you decide to keep them, let the foliage yellow, and then put them in the garden. They may bloom again, but can?t be forced indoors.
Water culture: hyacinths need only water in a special hyacinth vase, and it takes 4 to 8 weeks to develop roots.
Paperwhites can be grown in flat containers with pebbles and sand and then filled with water. When they get tall enough hold them upright with an attractive length of paper fiber string.
Garden lights become increasingly important in winter: let them light up snow bound shrubs and trees and you’ve got a sculptural element otherwise lost in the evening. Makes for good drama at dinnertime.
Solar Lights which run off the sunlight will work but better on the bright and sunny prairies than on murky coasts or dark central Canada or very shady garden. You can still tuck them in and around the garden to outline paths.
LED Light Emitting Diodes are a good buy and hold up to the weather. They are available in strips, you can use them as Christmas lights or to outline a favourite tree as a central focus. These are a great alternative to using incandescent fairy lights (Christmas tree lights) and use a good deal less electricity.