Fall Containers

Heuchera, viola and dusty miller

There’s such a difference between container gardening in spring and in the fall–at least in my climate.

And yes, there are perfectly lovely combinations that are possible with cabbages, ornamental kale, asters and mums–but somehow, I just can’t bring myself to do those. I am not quite sure why. I like asters and the ornamental cruciferous stuff. But I think that they all (with the exception of asters) seem to have too short a season.

Autumn (or fall, if you prefer) can be very finicky in New England. This year it has been long and lovely–so much so that our impatiens and geraniums (pelargoniums) are blooming with the pumpkins!

But many years, I remember frosts and even freezes by this time. And I am not one to go running out with bedsheets or towels to cover up everything. When things are done, they’re done. We move on–isn’t that why we have seasons?

So if I am asked to give a container garden lecture–as I have been the last two falls –it’s a challenge to decide what to bring. First of all, as in any garden club, not everyone has a garden (something that has always amused me, but of course, there are flower arrangers and conservationists, and people who have been members since they once had gardens–you get the idea). So I try to bring something that appeals to those who may have smaller gardens or indoor gardens or patio gardens as well.

Golden sage, silver thyme, rosemary

And while it’s not immediately intuitive, fall is a great time for an herb planter, because this is something that can be moved closer to the house for soups and stews and roasts–or perhaps even brought indoors.

Begonia, croton, ornamental pepper
Alocasia, calathea, anthurium

Fall is also a great time for house plant planters, whether you are just refreshing your own planters, combining plants to save space on your windowsills, or trying out new combinations. Just try to ensure that whatever you plant together needs the same cultural requirements of sun and water.

Notice also in my first photo, above, that I tucked an annual–or maybe you’d consider it an edible–into that “house plant” container. Those small “ornamental” peppers that are sold this time of year grow quite nicely indoors–just be sure to watch them later in the season for insects–as you should with all house plants!

I Can’t Wait To Plant!

Some of my seed and plant catalogs

Well, that didn’t take long.

All you have to do is to look back at my post on January 1 of this year. What I said then was that I thought my gardening in 2021 would be fairly scaled back, as my gardening in 2020 had been.

Apparently though, I underestimated my “pent up” gardening demand.

It’s as if something happened. I am not sure if it was the couple of snows at the end of January and in early February, or what quite happened, but it was as if the “gardening” switch in my brain suddenly got turned on to hyper drive. I can’t wait to plant!

I am poring over catalogs to see what I might want to add to the garden. I am trying to decide how I might incorporate edibles with the copious critter problem that I have. I am planning different container designs (always a favorite thing to do).

I am attending Zoom lectures about different gardening techniques, growing mushrooms from a kit in my kitchen (and that is a story for another day!), and going to webinars about what the plant breeders are doing—one of my favorite topics anyway.

When I am out walking my dog, as she sniffs around my garden beds, I am eyeing them critically to see what can be added, what can be pruned and what can be changed. I’ve already had a little tree pruning done and I plan to do a little more if the weather permits.

Those of you who remember my “sustainable” articles from earlier years know that I am not one to clean up my garden beds too early because I want to ensure that the beneficial insects have plenty of time to survive—so about all I can do outside is prune on warmish days. And while I do love to prune, there’s a limit to how creative that can be.

Fortunately, I am restraining myself from buying (right now, at least) because, well, who knows? We are still in the middle of this pandemic and the last thing I want to happen is to have boxes of plants to arrive when I am unable to care for them.

But it’s such a joy to look at the new plants and to dream! Hope springs eternal!

Fall Is For Planting

I can see that I am going to have to watch this new WordPress format carefully. In addition to being really finicky about posting in advance, its autocorrect is horrific. I will tell it what I want, and it will go back and auto correct over me a second time. So if my posts seem crazy, I am still working the bugs out on my tablet.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, days are growing shorter, even if it hasn’t yet begun to cool down where you are.

With any luck, there has also been moisture where you are. That makes autumn the perfect time to plant. Obviously I am not talking about planting annuals, although in many places cool season annuals like pansies can over winter right into next spring.

Similarly ornamental cabbage and kale are hardy enough to survive as decorative plantings until it is time to replace them with warm season annuals.

I don’t live in such a place, but I can still plant many things in autumn for next season. One of the things that I tell people is to think about soil almost like a body of water. You know how a lake or the ocean is slow to warm in the spring, but in September the temperature of the water is still perfect for swimming.

The same is true for soil. Our garden soils are also slow to warm in spring as well so plants put into them in spring get a slow start.

But plants put in now, even though they will be going dormant shortly, are getting put into warm soil. There is less adjustment for them (provided you remember to water).

So it’s a great time to plant perennials, trees (if you can find the variety that you want) and shrubs. Again, you must remember to water, if nature isn’t doing it for you, until your ground freezes. Here, in my cool part of the world, that’s usually late November or early December.

On Monday we’ll talk a bit about spring flowering bulbs–which also must be planted now.

July is Over–Winter is Coming

Evaluating Annuals

There are many parts of the country that have a lot of warm weather left. I don’t live in one of them. I am famous for saying that we have 2 seasons, winter and July. July is our “summer” and every other month of the year requires some version of fleece and usually lightweight gloves. This year, with its record breaking heat and drought, is no different.

So when late August comes, I begin to evaluate what has done well in the garden–and what I will take a pass on next year. In the case of my petunias, it is going to be a pass, probably for my gardening lifetime.

It’s a shame, too, because I really love petunias and they keep coming out with prettier varieties. But if 6 years isn’t long enough for the petunia worm to forget where I live, forget about it. There are lots of other things to grow.

What has been a delight in this container is the verbena. It’s the first time I have tried it in decades, literally. I only bought it because my choices were fairly limited at the garden center.

I would do it again–and will. My memories of verbena were of a fussy plant that needed deadheading. By midsummer, despite deadheading, it would be covered in powdery mildew. Yuck.

So this year’s version–from Proven Winners–was wonderful! I can’t say enough about how easy and carefree it was–and I was not good at about deadheading either. Definitely a winner.

Next I need to decide which house plants and tropicals make the cut–and if and become compost.

Petunia Worm

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I haven’t planted petunias for several years–not since 2014, I don’t think. There’s a reason for that. Every time I do, my container starts looking really good–and then all of a sudden all the blooms are gone from the petunias.

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If I am lucky, I might start to see this. That at least tells me that the worms have arrived.

But I am not one to treat a container of annuals with insecticide, even if the recommended treatment is BT. That kills caterpillars but of course butterfly larva are caterpillars too. So I would just as soon uproot the petunias once they start looking ratty.

What does this critter look like?

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He’s right there in the middle right of the photo, a green caterpillar about a quarter inch long. They can be difficult to see because of course they are the same color as the petunia stem.

They also eat annual geraniums and calibrachoa so this planter will need a refresh shortly.

But summer is very short-lived around here so I can refresh my planter with late season plants shortly.

Happy Accident

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This all looks so nicely composed, doesn’t it? The hanging impatiens above the ferns and the container below, with all sorts of nice contrasting textures from the ferns and the Japanese maple.

You can see by the title of my post that very little of it was planned. Lately, my best gardening just seems to “happen,” (although perhaps that is my imagination and my perfectionism talking).

But I will tell you that I didn’t plant any of those ferns. Nature sowed them for me. I just encourage them by watering (which is a feat, some years, like this one, when I am getting precious little help from nature!)

There is one spot where they don’t want to grow so I put a planter there. It has an impatiens plant the same color as the one in the hanging basket but you can’t tell. It’s been completely overrun by the oxalis. Oh well.

The color of the oxalis at least picks up the foliage of the Japanese maple leaves, and the cordyline. So you don’t miss the impatiens much.

And after I went out to get the impatiens plant, the Spoiler said, “oh. I thought you were going to plant a pot for the lawn.”

So I had to make a second trip to the garden center–not generally a hardship except in a pandemic–for more plants.

And that’s why he’s called the Spoiler.

Those Pesky Birds Again

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I’ve had this hanging basket for about a month or so but it’s just never done as well as I had hoped. Since I had the same variety in this spot last year (or the year before–sometimes the years blur together) I decided to investigate.

I took it down and started to pull out dead leaves and it seemed that there were far too many dead and decaying leaves in the plant. We are seriously dry–we should have had about 4″of rain for the month at this point and we have only had an inch, all at once.

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Suddenly I realized that what was coming out in my hsnds–along with dead leaves–was part of a bird’s nest! I was appropriately horrified. I looked in quickly to see whether it was an active nest but although it was beautifully constructed, there was no sign that it was in use.

I think, rather, that it was the work of the Male house wren. They build multiple nests in an effort to entice a mate. Not all of them get used–in fact, I don’t know why my house wren bothers. He always goes back to the nest box that I have for him. There are babies in there now, in fact.

But it gave me a little scare when I first thought that I had dismantled some poor bird’s little nest.

Anyway, the plant is already doing better as well. Whew.

Happy Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is traditionally the day to honor and remember our veterans of past wars, particularly those who did not return from the wars. Graves are decorated with flags, poppies are sold, and parades are held in commemoration.

All of that is upended this year because of the pandemic but it doesn’t mean that we fail to remember those brave veterans.

In past years, I would post about how planting my vegetables always helped me remember–and in my own way honor–the veterans like my Dad and my neighbor who were special to me.

Although they aren’t with us any longer, they do live on in our memories, of course and I still have happy memories of starting–and sharing–tomato seedlings with them both.

I credit my Dad for instilling my love of gardening to this day and the introduction I use for my lectures talks about him in the first sentence.

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So while I don’t grow as many tomatoes anymore (the battles with the deer and chipmunks just aren’t worth it!), I still grow lots of herbs, and have turned my vegetable garden into a pollinator garden. So it’s all good.

Happy Memorial Day!