Fall gardening tips from a horticultural meteorologist...
If you feel like our climate has shifted to rain forest, you are not alone. The damp mild weather is not a novelty here but the persistence has been. However, for those of us close to D.C., would you believe that over the past two weeks (prior to last night), our rainfall has been nearly an inch below normal?
There is probably no need to run for the sprinkler as temperatures have been mild and humidity levels high. In fact, some of my peonies have succumbed to mildew in the midst of all this. I don’t worry about those hardy plants though, just get rid of the diseased stalks and they will be back as good as new next spring. It is a good idea to take a look around for that white powdery coating on your plants and get it out of your garden to avoid long lasting infections.
Last time we spoke, it was to prepare for spring bulb planting. Today, we go even farther into the future and discuss summer bulbs. Yes, we can get a lot of that accomplished in the cool of fall and enjoy the beauty of abundant blooms during the heat of next summer. I am always in favor of cool season planting.
One of my favorite bulbs that bloom in that transition from spring to summer are alliums. While I show one of the most common types here, there are many to choose from. They are actually members of the onion family which makes them immune to all the typical garden marauders, like deer, squirrels and rabbits. Some of the blooms on these are huge, nearly 10 inches across. Others are small and delicate and not just in purple but also in pink, white, green and yellow so they can fit into most any garden color scheme. They are great at coming back year after year as long as they get plenty of sun and soils are not too wet.
My favorite summer bulb that needs to be planted in the fall is the lily. Lilies offer an abundance of blooms through the summer. The earlier blooming varieties are usually the Asiatic lilies, which bloom in June and July. Most of these grow two to four feet tall and have numerous blooms on each stalk. They are not to be confused with daylilies, which I love too, as their blooms gradually open up over about a 3 week period and last for up to a week as opposed to the one day wonders. Once again, the color palette is staggering, running from the deepest purples to the whitest whites. Orange, yellow, pink and red are the most common colors, but many also sport multicolored throats on the bloom for added beauty.
The later blooming lilies are Oriental and Chinese trumpet lilies. They are at their best in July and August and many grow to prodigious heights of 4 to 6 feet. Now you can stake them but I am so adverse to that extra work that I will find any kind of supporting shrub or bush for mine to lean on. Some of them are spectacularly fragrant, so I make sure to have some near the front porch. Just beware of the stamens on them as they will stain clothes and skin bright yellow. In fact some people snip off the stamens to avoid that problem and that is especially a good idea if they are going to be used as cut flowers.
Another later and very long lasting bloomer is the heirloom lily, Turk’s Cap variety. They all face downward but put on a spectacular show nestled among some of my other perennials, in their hot orange and yellow colors with black speckles.
While most books will tell you to plant lilies in full sun, I have to say mine did not read the book. I have many in part sun with no problem getting full bloom time. In fact, I have some in a pot in the corner of the porch that are lucky to get one to two hours of sun and yet back they come every year as spectacular as ever. So please share your stories and, until next time, happy planting.
Capital Weather Gang meteorologist David Streit is also an active gardener. He earned a certificate in landscape design from the USDA Graduate School and volunteered many years at the National Arboretum.