When the creamy-white panicles of my ‘Limelight’ hydrangea turn a dusty pink, I know summer is nearing an end. It’s normal to feel a little sad that the carefree days of summer are over, but autumn is a season of new beginnings in gardens. Hints of fall’s arrival are everywhere: in the blushing foliage of sumacs, in deciduous branches laden with ripened fruit, and in the perpetual activity of nuthatches, finches and other backyard feathered friends.
Lawns too, have regained their lush emerald hue with the return of fresher air and morning dew. Now is an opportune time to get back to gardening to continue plans abandoned with summer heat. Here’s what you can do now:
1) If you haven’t already done so, bring in your tropicals and other tender plants worth saving while outdoor temperatures are still mild enough for plants to easily transition to indoor environments. Bathe them in a diluted soapy solution first so creepy crawlies aren’t brought indoors along with them.
Stop fertilizing: plants no longer require feeding when growth slows in preparation for dormancy. Continue harvesting cold, tolerant herbs like parsley, mint and thyme until a week or so before autumn frost, then remaining sprigs can be snipped, dried and sealed in airtight jars in a dark cupboard until needed I toss potted herbs in the compost and start fresh ones each spring, but other gardeners may want to continue growing them through winter by a sunny window or under fluorescent lights.
2) Plant flowering bulbs of all kinds in preparation for next spring. Dig snowdrops, tulips, crocuses, and hyacinths into prepared soil. Where squirrels are a nuisance, plant bulbs of daffodils, fritillary and globe alliums, which are distasteful to annoying critters. Buy as many spring bulbs as you can afford for best effect and plant in the ground to a depth of roughly three times their diameter.
Plant in clusters where summer perennials will hide yellowing bulb foliage. Plant not just in ground, but also layered in deep, frost-proof containers filled with compost-rich potting medium. Place earliest blooming bulbs snugly in the top third of the pot and mid- to late-blooming bulbs deeper with at least six inches (15 cm) of soil underneath. Keep your potted bulbs in a frost free zone until spring.
3) Winter is long. Bright, red berries against the snow are eye candy — along with the birds they attract — that ease winter doldrums. Go to the nursery and select one of the myriad berried shrubs suitable for your site. Just look for shrubs with names that end in “berry”. In a few months you’ll be glad you did.
4) Empty your compost bin and spread its contents over your entire garden. Your plants will reward you with vigorous growth next season.
5) Create a new garden bed, especially if you have plant divisions from perennials such as irises and peonies to relocate, or need more space to grow food. Simply overlap pieces of cardboard on top of a just-mowed lawn, then wet it with a hose. Pile on a layer of fresh compost and rotting leaves, then let it settle over winter. You may want to map out the shape of the new bed with a hose and clean the edges with a sharp garden tool before you begin. By next spring you will have a new garden bed without all the back- breaking work involved in removing sod.
Finally, go for a long walk, enjoy the fresh autumn air and delight in everything the new season has to offer.
Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com