By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

In the early fall, the soil is still warm so roots will continue to grow. Spring planted shrubs or trees will get off to a slower start as the soil hasn’t warmed up to the optimum temperatures for root growth. Fall planted plants will begin root growth sooner, and leaf out sooner. Fall plants don’t have to deal with hot dry weather. The fall slant of the sun is less harsh, and the cooler days stress the plants less. There are usually fewer pests as the bugs are getting ready to either die or hibernate. Diseases tend to be less prevalent then too. 

Cooler weather is much nicer to work in as you usually don’t have to keep wiping sweat out of your eyes. Nurseries are selling off plants now as they don’t want to put more than they have to to bed for the winter. Bargains are always nice.

By this time of year, you know what plant, tree, or shrub bit the dust or just didn’t either do well where you planted it or you just plain didn’t like the darn thing.

This is the time to plant spring bulbs. If you marked the spots that need spring color, you’re all set. If not, be careful when you dig. If you hit a bulb, just replant it and look for another site. If you send for bulbs, be sure to let the company know you are in zone 3. Otherwise, you may just be getting your order after the ground freezes. Bunkey found this out the hard way, He ordered tulips from a Holland supplier. He got them in November. Have you ever had to use a pickaxe to plant? Just ask Bunkey how that went. (Badly). 

Contrary to old uncle’s tales, you can plant conifers in the fall. You will need to water the snot out of them until freeze up and protect them from freezer burn the first year. Simply wrapping them in burlap is often enough. The idea is to keep the wind from pulling all the water out of the plant in the wind. Put stakes upwind, then fasten the burlap to it. Do remember to do this before the ground freezes or you will be looking for that pickaxe. 

Now is not the time to prune or fertilize. You don’t want your plant to have to work to heal or have a flush of new growth just before going to sleep for the winter. 

There are some seeds you can plant now, the ones who tell you to cold stratify. Let old Mom Earth do it for you. Wait until a killing frost or at the same time you plant spring bulbs. They shouldn’t appear until spring but if they do just cover well with mulch. Annuals to plant are poppies, larkspur, love in a mist and pansies. You can plant bi-annuls now too. Foxgloves, Sweet William and hollyhocks do well with fall planting. 

Perennials that self sow, like coneflowers, hardy geraniums, black eyed Susans and asters can be left to plant themselves. Be aware that all these flowers are greedy. They want the whole garden to themselves. You will be thinning these all the summer as they will pop up in places you don’t want them to be. 

The lesson for the week is,–don’t put the shovel away just yet. There is still gardening to do.