By Martha Dupuis
The crisp autumn days are perfect for gardening. The heat and humidity of summer has waned and yet the soil temperatures are still warm, making fall a perfect time to plant. Gardeners are energized as we welcome all the colors of autumn and consider the vision of next season in our gardens. Let’s get busy, here’s how.
Start with a visit to your local nursery or garden center, where you most likely will find many bargains at this point in the season. It’s a great opportunity to tuck in a new specimen tree, shrubs, fruit trees and perennials all of which will develop a good root system prior to the onset of winter, if planted before a hard frost. Be certain to check the labels and take advantage of knowledgeable staff to determine the cold tolerance of each purchase. Zone 5 and lower should ensure cold hardiness in most, if not all, of Massachusetts. Holly, winterberry and other evergreens will benefit from fall planting too and can then be trimmed for your holiday decorating.
Here are some perennial favorites to plant in sunny locations now:
Echinacea (cone flower) in pink and purple shades — avoid the more exotic orange/red shades as they will be much happier planted in spring. You may find the finches flocking to the cone flower seed heads as the flowers fade providing a food source to attract birds to your landscape.
Sedum Spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ is a mainstay in many sunny gardens and very tolerant of poor, dry soil conditions. Heliopsis (False Sunflower), Gallardia and Coreopsis are others that bring color to the garden over a long period of time and into the fall.
Ornamental grasses will add a graceful touch of motion to your landscape providing multi-season interest—just but be sure to check the hardiness zones when making your purchase!
In shady areas, Hosta and Heuchera (Coral Bells) bring foliage color to your garden. Plant Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ for a three-season color accent with clear blue flowers in early spring–an outstanding plant earning recognition recently as a ‘Perennial Plant of the Year. Plant Hellebore (Lenten Rose) for very early spring blooms, it’s available in various hues and varieties.
It is very important to give nature a boost with supplementary watering as needed during dry conditions, even in cool autumn. Be sure to water each planting hole well.
Plant bulbs now for a riot of spring color, Dig-Drop-Done ™ it’s that easy! Daffodils, Tulips, Hyacinth, Crocus, Snowdrops and more, with just a little effort now will reward you as winter loosens its grip, some even poking up through lingering snow. How? Dig a small hole (approximately three times the height of the bulb) then Drop the bulb in the hole, pointy side up. Add some compost or bulb food to each hole, water and cover with soil to give them a good start. That’s it — you are done!
Take note of a pesky critter alert — squirrels and chipmunks find tulips and others bulbs very tasty. If the tasty bulbs are planted along with daffodil bulbs, which are not so palatable, the unwelcome dinner guests may eat elsewhere. Planting bulbs in clusters, rather than individually in a row, will evolve into a lovely, naturalized design. Choose the freshest- this-season bulbs at your favorite garden center, garden and farm supply outlet and other local sources.
The vegetable garden too, can benefit from fall planting. The optimum time to plant garlic bulbs is after the first light frost, usually in mid-October here in Massachusetts. Separate the cloves from the bulb just before planting, leaving the outer skin intact, and plant the cloves root end down/pointed end up in loose rich soil with lots of organic matter and a pH of 6.5. Cover with 2” of soil and a 6” layer of mulch (straw, grass clippings mixed with leaves). Leave the mulch in place until spring to help control weeds, preserve moisture and provide nutrients. In 4-8 weeks cloves may sprout through the mulch but the plants should not suffer any adverse effects from the weather. Select quality hard neck garlic bulbs for success in the northeast.
Now is also the time to begin raking up those fallen leaves or you could mulch mow them and reapply to insulate those newly planted garden beds for the winter. Leaf mulching your beds now will compost over the winter and nourish your soil. Done!
Then, sit back, relax, and wait for spring.
Martha Dupuis should be retired but is having too much fun as third-generation owner of Williams Trading Post Garden Center & Antique Shop in South Middleborough. She finds it therapeutic to dig in the dirt and enjoys the rewards and challenges of continuing a tradition established in 1949 by her grandparents. A nearly lifelong resident of South Middleborough and retired Middleborough Public Schools secretary, she feels it is important to educate as to where our food comes from beyond the box or can, to provide more options for organically produced food and to emphasize the need to protect bees and other pollinators. Whether hard at work or enjoying leisure time, Martha believes it is important to enjoy each moment and take time to smell the roses!