When you feel that first solid bite in the breeze and you see the songbirds winging their way south, and the trees are bursting with fire-laden hues, you know you can’t be spending the weekend curled up by the fireplace with a good book. Not for long.
While the weather is still gardener-friendly, you must shorten your “to-do” lists for the coming of late fall and early winter. Now is the time to attack your lawn and garden by planting your spring bulbs, buying and maintaining your trees and shrubs, doing your late autumn lawn care, using common-sense watering strategies, building a compost bin and making your own compost, controlling the many common garden pests, and winning at the weed-whacking war before the sudden onset of the fickle, cold and all-enveloping winter season.
Planting Your Perennials
Plant the spring-flowering bulbs until the ground becomes frozen, and prepare your tender but tenacious perennials for the coming seasonal changes. Remember that in the milder climates, bulbs can still be divided and transplanted. Plant hardy bulbs anytime before the soil freezes, but it’s best to plant them early enough so the root systems can grow before winter arrives handmade weed pipes. In some climates, you can plant until Thanksgiving or even Christmas. Late-planted bulbs develop roots in the spring, and may bloom late. But they’ll arrive on time by next year.
Be sure to position the bulbs at their proper depth. They must be planted so their bottoms rest at a depth two-and-a-half times each bulb’s diameter. In well-drained or sandy soil, plant an inch or two deeper to increase life and discourage rodents.
Choosing Your Trees and Shrubs
October is a wonderful time to shop for trees and shrubs at the nursery. They’re now showing their best and brightest colors there. You can plant them now and over the next few months, so that strong, healthy roots will grow over the winter.
You must carefully plan out your landscape to choose which trees you wish to plant for providing proper lawn coverage and the most beautiful scenery. When an appropriate tree is purchased, selected and planted in the right place, it frames your home and beautifies your land, making both more enjoyable. Trees can greatly increase the resale value of property, and even save you on energy costs.
Visualize your new trees at maturity while realizing that some trees develop as much width as height if given enough space to develop. Picture each tree’s size and shape in relation to the overall landscape and the size and style of your home. Trees peaking at forty feet do best near or behind a one-story home. Taller trees blend with two-story houses and large lots. Trees under thirty feet tall suit street side locations, small lots and enclosed areas such as decks and patios.
There are two basic types of trees you will be considering for purchase. Deciduous trees include large shade trees which frame areas with a cool summer canopy and a colorful autumn rack of superior colors. In winter, their silhouettes provide passage for sunlight. These trees can shade a southern exposure from summertime heat, and allow winter sunlight to warm the house. Evergreen trees have dense green foliage that suits them for planting as privacy screens, windbreaks or backdrops for flowering trees and shrubs. But they are handsome enough to stand alone. They do not lose their leaves, called needles, and provide year-round shelter and color. You should be sure to include a wide variety of both kinds of trees in your landscape to avoid losing them to diseases or pests. Buy disease- and pest-resistant trees.
When buying a tree, look for healthy green leaves if it has any, and also well-developed top growth. Branches should be unbroken and balanced around the trunk, and on dormant or bare-root stock they should be pliable. Examine the roots, which should form a balanced, fully-formed mass. Reject trees with broken or dried-out roots. Avoid trees showing signs of disease, pests or stress such as wilting, discoloration, misshapen leaves, scarred bark and nonvigorous growth. Consider the size of the tree. Young trees have a better rate of success when planted, and most flowering trees grow quickly, so start with less expensive, smaller specimens. And be sure and buy all your plants from a good quality nursery with a decent reputation.
Don’t prune a newly planted tree unless its form needs improving. Prune flowering trees in spring, after blooming, to correct unsightly problems. Crab apple trees are an exception and should be pruned in late winter. But you can remove diseased or dead branches anytime of the year, and much of this is done during the winter. Apply fertilizer when needed in the second and subsequent growing seasons. Mulch to conserve moisture, reduce weeds and eliminate mowing near the tree. Spread wood chips or bark four inches deep and as wide as the tree’s canopy around the base. But don’t mulch poorly drained over saturated soil. Wrap tree trunks after planting to prevent winter damage from weather and pests. And stake young trees, especially bare-root trees and evergreens, to fortify them against strong winds. Stake loosely and allow the tree to bend slightly, and remove stakes after one year.
Shrubs are often planted and used merely as foundation plants or privacy screens. But shrubbery foliage is vastly more versatile, and can go a long way toward livening up your landscaping. Countless varieties of gorgeously hued and beautifully leafed shrubs are available through nurseries and garden catalogs.
You must start by learning what varieties thrive in your area. Try visiting your local arboretum, where you may view different kinds of shrubs and decide whether they fit your gardening plans. Decide what overall look you want at different times of the year, and then find out which shrubs will be flowering, producing berries or sporting colorful foliage at those times. Compare what you find to the inventory at your local nursery, and ask the professionals who work there lots of questions.
Understand the characteristics of each shrub before you plant it. Flowering and fruit-bearing shrubs enhance a new home, but improper pruning and care will ruin the beauty of all your hard work. Some shrubs bloom on second- or third-year wood. If you’re maintaining a shrub because you’re hoping it’s going to blossom, but you’re cutting off first-year wood every year, it’s never going to bloom.
Some varieties are a foot tall at maturity, while others reach over fifteen feet. A large shrub will usually require more pruning. Also determine the plant’s ability to tolerate various soil conditions, wind, sun and shade. You don’t put a plant that’s sensitive to the elements in an open area. Use hardier plants to shelter it.
Not all shrubs work in every climate. Witch hazel, for example, blooms in fall or winter and is hardiest where minimum temperatures range from thirty degrees below zero to twenty degrees above. It would not be a good choice for very dry, hot climates. But some shrubs such as buddleia, hydrangea and spirea perform well across a wide range of growing zones.