I know, I know – you’re saying – really, Sheri? With the gardening? It’s November – can’t I just be DONE already?
By this time of year most of us (especially in the Northeast – ESPECIALLY in light of recent weather-related events) are winding things down in the garden. Outdoor chores are limited to raking leaves, covering up the patio furniture and hanging an autumnal wreath on the door (crafted, perhaps, with your preserved leaves?).
You probably wouldn’t think of planting a perennial garden in the fall, but it’s actually the ideal time – especially if you’re planning a new bed. Perennials planted in the fall have a real advantage over those planted in the spring and summer. In the warm-weather months, new plants have to contend with long hot days, and muggy, humid weather (ideal conditions for fungus, mildew and infestation). If these new plants are spring or summer bloomers, they have the dual task of producing flowers while establishing root systems. All this, while coping with the transplant shock that newly installed plants contend with.
But perennials planted in the fall have an edge. The weather is cooler and drier (making for more pleasant gardening too!). And as blooms are mostly finished by this time of year, the only job plants have to do is establish strong root systems – which they have the rest of fall and all of winter to accomplish. Come springtime, they are firmly rooted and ready to go. Finally, nurseries are less crowded and usually full of great, end-of-season deals. You can experiment with new plants that you’ve been eyeing all summer, or fill in with more of the varieties already existing in your garden.
A few notes – most plants are done blooming by the end of the summer, so many of the plants that you’ll find at the nursery will bear little resemblance to what they look like at their peak. Before you hit the nurseries, take a look at plant photos in books, catalogues and on-line, so you’ll have some idea of what the plants you see will look like next season. Although not very attractive (and maybe even a little sad looking), be assured that these plants are still viable, and will happily settle in to your garden over the winter.
Which leads to the last chore in the perennial garden in fall – winter preparation. Prepare your soil according to the needs of your particular site, and be sure to finish with a 1-3” layer of mulch. This will regulate the temperature of the soil in your garden and prevent the heaving of plants out of the ground during the typical freeze/thaw cycles gardens can experience over the winter months (for more on winter prep, you can read this article I recently wrote for Bonbon Break).
And while you’re at it, consider planting some spring-blooming bulbs – there are varieties that will bloom as early as February and March, providing a welcome burst of color during those dreary, end-of-winter months.
So what do you think? Would you consider getting out there and planting at this time of year? Or are you more inclined to shut it down and wait till spring?