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.

We Need To Talk About the Weather

Today is August 31. Tomorrow starts Meteorological Autumn. Yes, I know, the true astronomical start to Autumn isn’t until September 22 (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere). But for those of us that follow the meteorological seasons, Autumn begins September 1. So the last day of summer is today (or it was a month ago if you live in Connecticut where we only get winter and July).

Summer was a doozy here. It was actually summer. For the first time in a long time it was warm most of the time. I didn’t wear fleece in July–very unlike me.

But of course that meant that it was warm–very warm (once the snow stopped in May). We broke the record for 90 degree days. There were 39 of them this year. This is nothing compared to places like Tucson which is breaking its record for 105 degree days but it is still remarkable.

It is also remarkable because it came during the driest summer on record. At my house, during July and August we had less than an inch of rain each month. June wasn’t much better. Our entire state, with the exception of one county, is in severe drought.

Dying rugosa roses in parking lot island

This is just one example of what things look like around our state. And yes, it’s easy to say that this is a hot area surrounded by pavement but these are rugosa roses. They are actually on our invasive plant list. If something like this is browning out, you know it’s bad.

Yellow Knockout rose

This is my garden–my rose garden to be specific. Remember how hardy Knockout roses are supposed to be without any extra water, fertilizer or chemicals? Here’s my yellow Knockout rose, yellowing badly. Others I have are not faring quite so poorly. You can see other roses in this bed holding their own as well. But clearly this Knockout is stressed.

You’ll notice that I talked about the fact that this is weather, not climate. The old saying goes that if you can observe it in your lifetime, it’s weather, not climate.

I won’t make any judgment yet. I will say that this is the second drought–this one being short term so far–that we have had. The last was over a 2-3 year period and was only a couple of years ago.

As for heat, our summers had been relatively mild. It was the night-time temperatures that were creeping up, leading to a lack of cooling overnight. We really haven’t had long-term heat like this.

So no dire predictions from me, just observations. And a remark that when I could get the tomatoes from the critters, they were great. This was a great year for tomatoes!

House Plants–To Compost or Not?

I mentioned on Monday that this is about the time when I cast a critical eye on the house plant collection and decide what’s coming back inside and what’s becoming compost.

Windowsill space is always an issue and there’s no reason to look at plants that I don’t love. Several of the windows are already nicely filled and no plants have come inside yet.

Many of you may wonder why I take the plants in so early. As a general rule, I try to begin transitioning them in on Labor Day weekend. It doesn’t have so much to do with temperature as it does with light.

If I leave them out a few weeks later–as I have on occasion– when I bring them in, they drop a lot more leaves. So I try to avoid that.

Ruella

This ruellia may not make the cut. There’s nothing really wrong with the plant, but it does nothing for me and the drooping habit is depressing. Who needs depressing plants right now?

Dracena

It’s a good bet this one is gone. Again, the problems speak for themselves (I think). I could try to salvage and root the top, I suppose but why? It’s such a common plant.

Aglaeonema

This is the one I am not sure about. Something–chipmunks? Squirrels? Keeps making a mess and using the pot to cache their nuts. In the process, pieces of the plant are broken and uprooted. I may try to salvage it just before I bring it in. We’ll see.

And there may be others. Because after all, I will need room to aquire a few new plants too.

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.

Vine-Ripened Tomatoes

20200815_165213

For any gardener that likes them, there’s nothing like a vine-ripened tomato. Many times, if you’re growing these smaller varieties, they don’t even make it it into the house–they go straight from the plant into your mouth.

In past years, I have done that too. But recently, and especially in this drought year, I have smaller critters so anxious for any moisture at all that they’re stripping–and eating–green tomatoes, something that I have not seen before.

So I have had to resort to some desperate measures myself. Now, when I see even the smallest hint of color on these tomatoes, I snatch them off the plant and bring them inside the kitchen to ripen.

20200803_170018

After all, as cute as this little guy is, I am still not sharing my tomatoes with him or her!

Arborgeddon

20200815_164712

These trees came down during Tropical Storm Isaias. We were fortunate. Anything major that came down, came down in the wooded portion of our property.

As you can see, they were dead. They were left in place deliberately. Standing dead trees provide nesting areas for all sorts of birds–woodpeckers, small owls, chickadees, nuthatches–it is estimated that as many as 85 different kinds of birds will nest in a dead tree, if you can leave one in place safely.

In addition, bats will rest there to consume insects. And the beetles that get under the bark to begin the work of turning the tree into compost can serve as food for birds, chipmunks and squirrels.

20200815_164802

I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is that dead trees only be left if they will not endanger anyone or anything. These fell quite nicely down into the middle of our little woods. If they had been on the edges, near our neighbor’s house, or the power lines, obviously we would have had to remove them before they caused harm.

Walled Off

20200809_065238

This post is another example of a situation where “garden management” left undone has become a huge asset.

Mind you, I am not advocating for this sort of thing. But for a few years, I had unfortunate surgeries that kept me from doing just about anything in the garden–certainly anything as major as pruning large hibiscus syriacus shrubs after they bloom and before they go to seed, as should be done.

And so they self sowed everywhere. As with all weedy plants, I am still dealing with that unfortunate problem.

But in this one instance, the hibiscus actually solved a problem that I had been battling for 20 years in this garden.

This great wall of hibiscus hedge now keeps my neighbor’s riding mower from throwing all sorts of grass and weed seeds into this garden.

I even lost a viburnum to pesticide drift from their property–because of course we don’t spray at all. So there will be no more of that. If anything, some of the great wall of hibiscus might get hit with their toxins–but there’s plenty more where that came from!

Now I just need to keep the “mother plants” pruned after flowering or it will become one great garden of hibiscus!