by Sheri Silver
For most of us, fall is a time for back-to-school, football, sweaters and apple picking. Outdoor chores are limited to raking leaves, covering up the patio furniture and perhaps buying a few pots of mums or ears of Indian corn for a seasonal display. You probably wouldn’t think of planting a perennial garden in the fall, but it’s actually the ideal time to plant, especially a new bed. Perennials planted in the fall have a distinct advantage over those planted in the spring and summer. In the warm-weather months, new plants have to contend with long hot days, often muggy, humid weather (ideal conditions for fungus, mildew and infestation) and neglect due to vacationing homeowners. If these new plants are spring or summer bloomers, they have the dual task of producing flowers while establishing root systems. All this, while coping with the transplant shock that all newly installed plants contend with.
Perennials planted in the fall, however, have a real edge. First, the weather is cooler and drier – more pleasant for the gardener too!! Second, as blooms are mostly finished by this time, the plant only need concern itself with establishing a strong root system – which it will have the rest of fall and all of winter to accomplish. By spring, the plant will be firmly rooted and ready to go. Third, nurseries are less crowded and often full of great deals for the end-of-season buyer. You can experiment with new plants that have intrigued you, or fill in with more of the varieties already existing in your garden.
Some notes for the fall gardener – most plants are done blooming by the end of the summer, so many of the plants that you’ll find at the nursery will bear little resemblance to what they will look like at their peak. Before you hit the nurseries, take a look at plant photos in books, catalogues and on-line so you’ll have some idea of what the plants you see will look like next season. According to Paul Nabel, owner of Nabel’s Nurseries in White Plains, “Although not very attractive now, the perennials you see in the nurseries in fall are still viable and will happily settle in to your garden over the winter”.
Which leads to the last chore in the perennial garden in fall – winter preparation. Prepare your soil according to the needs of your particular site prior to planting and be sure to finish with a 1-3” layer of mulch. This will regulate the temperature of the soil in your garden and prevent the heaving of plants out of the ground during the typical freeze/thaw cycles we can experience in our area over the winter months. Choice of mulch is up to your own personal taste – pine, cedar and cocoa hulls are just some of the many options available. Just be careful not to mulch right up to the crown of the plant – this can lead to rot, even over the winter.
And while you’re at it, consider planting some spring-blooming bulbs – there are varieties that will bloom as early as February and March, providing a lovely surprise during the dreariest winter months.
“tending your garden” is reprinted with the permission of River Journal Inc., 914.631.7021
© 2007 sheri silver – fiorigarden.com