Fall gardening tips from a horticultural meteorologist...
For once, the past two weeks have been pretty uneventful. Rains have been a little light but nothing bad, save for a few heavy showers this morning. Temperatures have been near normal. Why we even have the good weather coming on the weekends now! This brings me to the week’s discussion: musings while working in the garden last weekend.
One thing that makes me crazy this time of year is seeing lawn irrigation systems running full tilt every day. Evaporation rates are substantially diminished this time of year and our rain rates have been sufficient to carry the lawn. If you have just seeded, then there is justification for a light watering, but what I mostly see in my neighborhood is swamp conditions. That leaches out nutrients and damages roots just as the grass is beefing up for the winter. Enough of my grass grousing, my goal is to eliminate it altogether!
Fall Garden Issues
Each year I edge the flower beds out another 6 inches and fill in with local soil and compost. I figure in about 22 years the lawn will be gone! The one shock I got this year was edging around my maple and willow trees and discovering that their roots were reaching well into the lawn. I was horrified that I had cut the ends of the root system. While this probably will not be the end of the world it will set them back. I have pledged to stop planting in the near vicinity of them after this season.
Before the planting moratorium, I am setting in some groundcovers at the edges to fill in under these trees. My favorites are epimediums. They take the shade and the dryness that is unavoidable under most trees. I will be spreading a couple of inches of soil under the trees for the planting. Any more than that is bad for the tree roots as they need air to develop properly. Sedum is another very good choice for the dryness but will need some sun to flower. For me the foliage is enough, but with just enough sun they will bloom too. I have also done lamium - love the silver leaved variety for lighting up the shade - but they will require some additional watering in the summer to avoid wilting.
The one thing I was dying to do this weekend was to clean up some plants that are a bit past their prime, but I showed great restraint in most cases. I have a cardinal climber vine, a relative of the morning glory, shown here that was blown off the side of the house in the hurricane and is now taking over the holly bushes. However, that vine attracts hummingbirds like a magnet and I just can’t take away their food source now, right before their big journey south. The same is true for the seed bearing plants for the other birds, bloomers like verbena and lantana for the butterflies and perovskia and asters for the bumble bees. I am happy to put up with the “jungle” a little longer to take care of all these denizens that keep our gardens so active and entertaining.
There is work to be done though. If you have bulbs coming soon, you know what I mean, I have about 500 coming this season…what was I thinking? Mulching tender plants is in order soon to protect them from the winter cold. I will only be planting cabbages and kale for decorative winter plantings this year. I am giving up on pansies in my deer prone area. If anyone has any other winter planting ideas, I would love to hear them. Until two weeks from now, happy gardening!
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.