Fall Gardening Tips
It’s fall cleanup time again. I’ve already started tossing tired annuals into the compost bin and putting away the fertilizer. Right now, plants need to be focusing on root development and storing energy rather than putting on new growth.
September is also a good time to finish dividing and moving plants since, ideally, most plants need a minimum of six weeks to establish enough of a root system to get them through the winter. That’s not to say, of course, that you should pass up a good plant sale. Heck, I’ve plopped plants into the ground a week from Halloween and crossed my fingers many times. That hasn’t always worked out so great, but it’s worth a try if there’s a good sale or you just couldn’t manage to get everything into the ground before it got cold.
If you collect seeds from some of your plants, October is a good time to do that. I’ll have the seed library going again in October so if you have extras, please consider dropping some off for others to share. If you don’t know where the seed library is, just email and I’ll give you the address. If you’re not interested in collecting seeds, consider leaving some perennials, like coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, standing for the winter. Birds will thank you for the snacks and the plants will look nice in the snow, at least for a while.
If you’ve still got energy for projects and are tired of dealing with sandy soil, fall is a good time for change. Sandy soil drains well, too well, really. So the soil is low in nutrients and moisture. To help, turn in things like composted manure, kitchen compost, shredded or mulched leaves and coconut coir (an alternative to peat moss). For areas that are just too large to change with amendments, try planting things that actually like sandy soil, such as hyssop, prairie onion, columbine, wild ginger, butterfly weed, common milkweed, whorled milkweed and many types of asters.
For those of you who are looking around your gardens and wishing there was more going on, here are some plants that you can go out and get now and enjoy next year. Helen’s flower (Helenium autumnale), which is also known as sneezeweed even though it won’t make you sneeze, has pretty blooms that are yellow, red and orange. New York asters (Aster novae-belgii) and New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) are both hardy and attractive to pollinators. When shopping, pay attention to how tall these can grow. Some varieties are under 2 feet tall, which I prefer, while others can grow as high as 4 to 5 feet and get a little bit gangly. Also check out aromatic asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), which have bluish purple flowers and grow to only 1 to 3 feet tall.
Boltonia (Boltonia asteroides) is a great fall-blooming perennial that you don’t see very often. Plants can get as tall as 5 feet, but usually a bit shorter, with delicate stems and leaves. Flowers resemble daisies and can be white, pink or lavender. Blanket flower (Gaillardia) is another good option with its yellow/orange blooms that last well into the fall. I love turtlehead (Chelone), which blooms in white if you go with the native variety. I want more color in the fall so I plant a cultivar with pink blooms called ‘Hot Lips’.
Vines are overlooked as a source of fall color but they shouldn’t be. Virginia creeper is absolutely stunning in the fall, as is Boston ivy, silver lace vine, sweet Autumn clematis and climbing hydrangea.