Fall is right around the corner and it is a glorious time. The countryside is virtually exploding with oranges, reds, golds and yellows. This is a great time of the year to enjoy the out-of-doors. It is also a great time for fall gardens as autumn mums and perennials finish the season with a flourish.
Most spring planted annuals get a bit ragged about now, having survived through the heat, dry conditions and pests of the summer. This is a good time to freshen up your gardens by introducing some proven winners to your fall landscape. Coincidentally, you’ll probably be around to enjoy your fall garden more than you mid-summer plantings. The weather is more temperate, vacations are over with and kids are back in school.
With that it mind here are a few suggestions that are sure to please. Most of these plants will have strong seasonal interest well into December-and ornamental grasses are great all throughout the winter!
Fall Favorites: Ornamental Grasses-Grasses are a terrific way to add drama to your landscape. Their texture is a perfect foil to Rudbeckias, Sedums or hardy Chrysanthemums. They are extremely easy to grow, durable and can be used in a variety of landscape situations. They are also very attractive when used in containers. Ornamental grasses can range in height from under one foot (Festuca cinerea ‘Elijah Blue’) to well over six feet (Miscanthus sinesis ‘Silver Grass’). Many varieties of the Pennisetum family are gaining in popularity, including alopecuroides, with its enormous tassels through fall and winter and a dwarf fountain grass called ‘Hamelin’. Most varieties send out dramatic spikes of feathery plumes during late summer and early fall. These seed heads add interest to an otherwise stark winter landscape.
Ornamental Kale-Flowering kale and cabbages are fast becoming one of the more popular additions to the fall border. And for good reason…ornamental kale offers dramatic colors and shapes not commonly available in the fall. Brilliant pinks, purples and creamy whites add intrigue whether planted in the landscape or used in containers to accent mums and grasses.
Their fabulous colors are not flowers, but rather rosettes of central leaves. Flowering Kales have fringed or serrated leaves that actually gain in color intensity as the weather turns colder. They literally bloom into the winter months! Their vibrant displays will last until the winter temps reach the teens.
Fall Pansies (Violas)-This is a great way to extend your color into November and beyond. While most mums have gone by, these guys, with proper maintenance, will flower their heads off. Plant them in drifts, in pots or even tuck a few in to spruce up a tired hanging basket. These cheery faces do especially well with the warm ground temps and cool nights of autumn. They usually will flower through the first couple of hard frosts. Hardier varieties even winter over and provide unexpected delights the following spring. Imagine their deep purples set off against the brilliant pinks of ornamental kales. The nice thing about it is it will look great whether planted in the landscape or potted up for the front door!
Well, those are but a few of many great ways to liven up your fall landscapes. Sedum, hardy perennial Hibiscus and Asters are other opportunities. Stop by with any questions. We are always here to help. Fall is a beautiful time and it’s in fashion now, and after all, Fall is for Planting!
Fall is a great time to plant trees, shrubs, bareroot perennials and bulbs.
Start pansy & viola seed for bloom next spring
Watch your compost pile. This is a good time to add an activator for brown leaves & lawn trimmings
Check your lawn for grub activity. Sure signs are brown patches of lawn with turf that you can peel back. Another sign is increased activity of skunks, raccoons and moles in your lawn. Treat with dylox, oftanol or diazinon to eliminate grubs.
Plant spring flowering bulbs. Plan on the end of this month. Fertilize and water in well.
Plant fall pansy, flowering cabbage and kale. They all love the cooler night temps that come with autumn in New England.
Fall is a great time to seed or re-seed your lawn. Keep grass seed moist until germination occurs. Add weed-free straw or salt marsh hay to hold seed in place.
Are you overloaded with new ideas for perennial beds and borders after visiting friends or public display gardens? Seen lots of unfamiliar and interesting new plants at the nursery? If so, fall is an excellent time to prepare fall garden beds for planting now or in the spring. The cooler temperatures, weaker sunlight and shorter days of fall mean less energy goes into top growth and more into establishing a strong root system. Planting in this area can usually continue through October.
After choosing the proper plants for your location-taking into account plant hardiness and the amount of available light-the most important thing you can do to insure success is to properly prepare your soil.
After marking off the area, you need to rid it of perennial weeds. Rototilling will only increase your weed crop, so you will need to carefully pull all underground stems and roots. Be sure to also remove any additional roots you find when you turn the soil over.
The soil you’re aiming to create should hold moisture, but also be well drained. If it doesn’t drain well now, it probably has high clay content. The actual soil particles are very small and pack together very closely, suffocating and drowning plant roots. Adding gypsum to clay soil can help break it up.
If your soil drains very quickly and you need to water frequently, it is probably sandy. Soil particles are relatively large and fit together loosely. Plants rarely drown in sandy soil unless the area is low-lying or the water line is high. In this instance it would be best to make a raised bed.
The solution, both for maintaining good drainage, and moisture retention, is generous amounts of organic matter. It separates clay particles, creating air space, and holds water and nutrients in sand. Good sources of organic matter are finished compost, well-decomposed manure, leaf mold and damp peat moss. These should be incorporated into the soil when it is turned over to a depth of 12″ or more. At this time you can also remove any sizable rocks, roots or other debris.
Most perennials grow best in a soil that is slightly acid to almost neutral-a pH of about 5.5-6.5. Most soils in this area are probably very acid and will need to have lime added every 2-3 years.
If you prefer to estimate your fertilizer needs, there are a few things to keep in mind. Phosphorous, and some of the trace elements, even when present in the soil in sufficient quantities, are only available to plants within a fairly narrow pH range. Keeping your soil pH at 5.5-6.5 should be adequate for most plants.
Fertilizers can either be natural, or you can use dry or granular fertilizers that are either quick or slow release. You can use either type if you are going to plant now. If you are going to delay planting until spring, wait and add the fertilizer then unless you are using natural fertilizers which break down slowly and will not leach out readily. A good DIY project for the fall.
Natural fertilizers should be incorporated into the soil when you turn it over, especially phosphorous (bone meal, rock phosphate), as it doesn’t move readily through the soil. Dry or granular fertilizers can be sprinkled on the surface and raked into the top few inches of soil.
It’s always a shame that just when your window box has reached their peak of fullness and color, autumn sneaks in and nips at the foliage and flowers, signaling it’s time to clean them out. Or is it? This season, try extending the life of your window boxes, so you can appreciate their beauty year-round, each time you glance out your winter windows.
To spruce up your boxes, start by removing what looks old and tired: the geranium leaves are beginning to yellow, the verbena is way past its prime, and the dianthus isn’t flowering anymore. But the ageratum seems to be perking up now that the heat of summer has passed, and the ivy and vinca are holding their own. You can fill in gaps with cool season flowers such as mums and pansies and probably get another three weeks of flowering out of those boxes.
When freezing temperatures arrive, it’s time for flowering brassicas, such as kale and cabbage, with their colorful, curious foliage. Plant them directly into the boxes and they will last all winter long through the harshest of weather. As you plant, tuck daffodil and tulip bulbs under the flowering kale to guarantee an early spring show. You can mix in cut sprigs of crabapples, viburnums, winterberry, or any other shrub or tree with clusters of colorful berries and strong branches. Just stick the branches into the soil in the boxes, and your only problem will be the birds and wildlife competing for the berries! Tangled grapevines and bittersweet, with its orange seed coats and red berries, quickly go from noxious weeds growing in the wild to precious commodities in autumn and winter window boxes.
Evergreen branches from spruce, balsam, and fir will retain their color throughout the winter months as long as the temperature is low. Stick their ends into the soil just before the soil freezes, arranging them en masse. For the holidays, string little white lights through the boughs and tie on weatherproof velvet bows. Discard the branches once the temperatures start to warm, but don’t worry, your window boxes won’t be bare for long. The tulip and daffodil bulbs you carefully tucked in for the winter will soon be coming to life, and the cycle will begin anew.