So, what fresh garden temptations await us this autumn?
After taking a close look at what lived, died, languished and thrived in Plant Life columnist Valerie Easton's own garden the past couple of years, she recommends putting off planting vines and perennials until early spring.
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Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them. A columnist for The Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest Magazine for the last 14 years and author of four books on gardening, she lives on Whidbey Island where she loves to hike, read and garden.
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AS THE GARDEN begins to die down, it's time to get out there and dig. But is it really safe after the past couple of killer winters to plant anything besides tulip, lily and daffodil bulbs this time of year?
It's long been a maxim of gardening here in the Northwest that October and November are the best time to put hardy plants into the ground. Horticulturists, nurseries and plant-sale promoters will tell you that it's because still-warm autumn soil encourages root growth. Fall rains nurture plants when they most need the moisture, giving them a head start in spring before drought sets in.
I'd add to these persuasive reasons the fact that we're acutely aware of our garden's strengths and weaknesses at the end of the growing season. Now is the time to consider what is growing happily and what could best be pulled up and composted. Is that gap in the hedge large enough to squeeze in another evergreen? Do you really have enough sun and patience for more roses? All the spring and summer garden work is fresh in our minds, so we can best gauge if we really do want more plants to take care of.
But just as we're reconsidering the concept of fall planting, it's as if plant breeders have finally caught up with the idea. I've never seen so many plants introduced in autumn, which means nurseries are well stocked.
So, what fresh temptations await us this autumn? If you're a fan of 'Annabelle' hydrangeas, you might find the first pink Hydrangea arborescens irresistible. The huge flower heads on 'Bella Anna' are magenta pink, fading to cream, and it keeps blooming from summer into fall; you should be able to find still-flowering shrubs for sale.
Or how about the long-blooming, disease-resistant, true red landscape rose 'Home Run,' with single 3-inch flowers and a rounded, compact shape? For earlier bloom, there's the new, thornless quince Chaenomeles speciosa 'Orange Storm,' with flowers so double it looks like a camellia. And a dwarf, lavender pink lilac (Syringa 'Boomerang') that earns its name by blooming in spring, then again from summer until frost. For the first time, it's possible to scent your garden with lilac perfume over many months.
Aside from it being a good time to assess whether we really have room for more hydrangeas and quinces, it's also time to consider whether autumn planting still makes sense in this time of climate change. Is it any more than an outdated philosophy after the past few killing winters with their decimating early and late freezes? So many plants died off, especially smaller, more freshly planted ones. And our past few springs have been the wettest on record. This year it kept on raining well into summer, lessening the need for fall planting.
After talking with a number of gardeners, and taking a close look at what lived, died, languished and thrived in my own garden the past couple of years, I'd recommend putting off planting vines and perennials until early spring. Their root balls are small so they're less able to handle weather extremes. Also, they're easily smothered by piling on mulch, while plants with woody stems can tolerate a thick, protective blanket to help them get through the winter.
But it's still fine to go ahead and plant hardy trees and shrubs now, when they're available in the nurseries and at plant sales. With their better developed root balls and tougher constitutions, the woody plants should be able to survive the winter, and even get a boost from autumn planting. Be sure to give them the best possible start in life by digging a hole twice as wide as it is deep, incorporating native soil back into the hole and watering thoroughly before mulching.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.
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