Next to spring, early fall is the busiest season in the garden year. It is a great time to jot down ideas for next year, to transplant perennials, to plant a tree or just to sit in the shade with a good book and admire the work of the past season.
Now is the right time to consider whether any tender plants in the garden are worth keeping. Buying easy-to-find plants new each year is less expensive and less work. The gardener should think about how much indoor space he or she wants to share with plants in front of windows or under fluorescent lights and whether having some temporary guest plants for the winter season might be more appealing than caring for picky ones. Heirloom plants inherited from a family member often come with instructions on care from the previous caretaker.
Special begonias, coleus and geraniums may be preserved. Instead of bringing in the whole plant, it is possible to cut off some good-looking, four- or five-inch pieces. The flowers and most of the leaves must be stripped off and the cuttings stuck into fresh, unused potting mix. If the mix is kept evenly moist, most cuttings will root and start a new plant.
It is fun to cut a single beautiful begonia leaf (with a four-inch stem) and stick it in a glass bottle filled with water. After roots begin growing, one can plant the leaf or the small plant that will grow up later on top of the roots.
Many trees can be planted now. Trees are a long-term investment, and the older they get, the more valuable they become. However, they also grow. So before digging that comfortable hole, it is crucial to look up, look down and look all around. Those two cute little blue spruce trees planted by the front door may in time get so big the homeowners will have to go around to the back door to get in.
The secret to achieving beauty without frozen fingers or an aching back is to plant bulbs now. Planting bulbs this fall provides an early start on spring color for next year. North Shore rabbits and deer love tulips but are not fond of daffodils and minor bulbs.
“Bulb lasagnas” are a good way to treat large containers or small spaces. In an area about two feet across and 16 inches deep, one can start with three to four inches of soil or potting mix.
The next step is to gently press in a layer of daffodil bulbs (they can be touching each other). On top of that, the “recipe” calls for two to three more inches of soil and a layer of hyacinths, then two more inches of soil and some crocus or other minor bulbs. The “casserole” should be topped off with more soil.
Those who live in squirrel country can frustrate the four-footed looters by placing a piece of hardware cloth or chicken wire over the spot till the ground freezes solid.