The Perennial Buzz: Fall planting pulls us through winter

Published 9:00 am Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Perennial Buzz by Shelley Pederson

Shelley Pederson is a perennially busy master gardener, lover of nature and student of life.

“Bulb: potential flower buried in Autumn, never to be seen again.” — Henry Beard

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This is about the time I give in and buy spring blooming bulbs. Tulips, daffodils and allium are my favorites. I didn’t realize until this year how popular my allium were with the bees. They are also deer- and rabbit-resistant. Simply plant at the recommended depth, give them some bone meal or bulb food, and if you really want some whoppers add some worm castings. Water them in and give them a drink once a week if we have a dry fall. I think my spring bloomers are all I have to keep my sanity at the end of our long winters. Just when I’m about to mutiny and move away, my pretties break the ground and save my soul.

Shelley Pederson

Fall clean up continues in my garden. Plants who reseed prolifically, get a haircut. I started a butterfly garden last fall and in it are phlox, swamp milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace and stiff goldenrod. These are great butterfly and bee pollinators; however, my space is small, and I’d like them to stay well behaved in the area they are planted. If you have a large space and want to fill it, simply leave the seed heads to fall or for the songbirds to eat. I generally leave the rest of my perennials alone.

If you think about the perennial in its native setting, it would grow, set a seed and come back by seed or root the next year. The foliage provides a natural buffer from the snow and deep freeze. By leaving the seed heads and the foliage, I have found that songbirds clean up the seeds and use the foliage for winter protection from snowstorms and wind. I only lightly mulch. I have also found those coveted colored coneflowers do better leaving the crowns a bit exposed and dry.

Remember to mark where your flowers are, especially zone 5 flowers such as Russian sage, buddleia, miscanthus grasses and agastache — all of which do well in my garden. They are very late to break dormancy, usually in June. Those plastic tags from the nursery tend to get brittle and disappear, along with my memory.

It’s also a good time to apply dormant oils to roses and apple trees to help suffocate the eggs of pests. Dormant oils such as Neem can help reduce fungus and other problems in the garden and help with birch, ash, and iris borer. Read and follow the instructions carefully.

Previously bearing raspberry canes should be cut off at the ground and raspberries should be thinned to about 8 to 10 inches apart. Fertilize with bone meal or a slow release organic fertilizer. The new canes will bear for you next year.

I generally trim flowering shrubs two weeks after blooming. Many spring blooming shrubs set their blooms in the summer. As for my fall bloomers, I generally leave them alone until spring. A rule of thumb is to only trim up to one third of a plant, tree or shrub. Aggressive trimming can create shock and you may lose the plant.

If you have a deer or rabbit problem use Milorganite to fertilize the area, or apply Liquid Fence, or wrap the trees for protection. You may google which plants are more deer and rabbit resistant, but remember, not much will stop a hungry animal.

I like to fertilize in the fall with slow release organic fertilizer. Avoid high nitrogen, the goal is carbs for the roots. Be sure to add higher acid fertilizer to magnolias, pine trees, blueberries, azalea, rhododendrons and the colored hydrangea. Coffee grounds are great for these acid lovers all year round. Now that your gardening chores are almost complete, be sure to let your clay pots dry out to be stored, clean your tools and maybe give them a spray with WD40. Take a minute to look at your garden — you did good.