Column, Looking Back

Don’t despair, gardening isn’t over yet!

By Mary Ellen Shaw

When the pandemic hit back in March I think we will all agree that it changed our lives in a “New York minute.” Fortunately for us, spring was right around the corner and we could focus on spending time in the garden. When you grow flowers or veggies you always have something to do. The order in which you do it goes like this – plant, weed, and reap!

Many people tried gardening for the first time and loved it. Others increased the size of their gardens in an attempt to grow as much of their own food as they could. I found out first hand recently that buying additional seeds for late summer planting was as hard as finding toilet paper when the pandemic began.  I was on the hunt for additional red lettuce seeds and finally tracked them down but it was a chase.

Labor Day doesn’t mean that your gardening season has to end. In a protected location there are many veggies that do well when grown in late summer and early fall. I grow lettuce and radishes in raised boxes so they are easy to cover over when frost is predicted.

Hoops and floating row covers work well if you are growing veggies in the ground.

This is also a good time of year to divide your perennial flowers. Doing it now while you can still see the flower heads will eliminate any confusion you might have in the spring when many of the emerging green leaves tend to look alike. Dividing plants now gives them time to establish their roots before a hard frost.

Of course, the guesswork of telling one plant from another next year will disappear if you take the time to label your plants now. But if you are like me, time passes and there is always something more important that needs to be done.

This is a great time of year to change the look of your home and patio with plants that speak of fall. Our containers that we planted around Memorial Day probably have flowers that look a little tired about now. Mums are by far the most popular choice for replacement plants but ornamental kale and grasses are also great choices. Rubrum and flame ornamental grasses both offer a red color. You can plant the latter grass variety in the ground and it should return in the spring especially if planted in a protected area.

When you are officially done with your containers you will need to wash and store them in a dry area if they are ceramic or terra cotta. Leaving them outside in the winter will cause them to freeze and crack from the snow and ice.

September is a wonderful time to visit local garden centers for end-of-the-season bargains. Trees, shrubs and perennials are usually discounted. I have gotten some great bargains on Japanese maple trees and Cleveland pear trees. When they are under $30 apiece, how could I go wrong? Plant what you buy right away and water them well in the weeks before the snow arrives.

I learned the hard way that you must follow the instructions on tree trunk wrappers which are used to protect the bark. After a couple of years or when the tree fills the diameter of the plastic wrapper remove the wraps. Otherwise they become embedded in the tree bark and will damage or kill the tree. Lesson learned!

Bushes can also offer some great autumn color. However, some of the ones we like the most can be very invasive. I tried growing bittersweet so I could use the berries in fall arrangements. It was short-lived in my garden as it would have choked out anything in its path if I didn’t dig it up. Not a good choice for an area without a lot of space. Nothing beats the red of a burning bush in autumn but they can get very tall and bushy if not trimmed back faithfully.

Hydrangea trees offer deep mauve blossoms to be picked and dried for fall arrangements. The Pee Gee variety is a popular one in our region. It’s best to pick the blossoms when they have dried slightly on the tree. Cut the stems long, remove the leaves and they are ready to dry. You can do this in a couple of ways. They can go into a vase indoors with or without water and away from direct sun.  Or you can hang them upside down in bunches (leaves removed) in a warm dark space with good air circulation.  The hydrangeas should be dry in a couple of weeks and will be ready for an arrangement. The texture offered by cattails and dried ornamental grasses will add an attractive touch.

Perennial flower prices are always marked down at this time of year. If you can find black-eyed Susan and autumn sedum they will bloom in your garden into September. Even better is the fact that they can be divided after a couple of seasons. Free plants are always welcome! Discount prices allow you to be adventurous. So why not try something new and hopefully it will be there to greet you in the spring.

Enjoy your time in the garden right to the end. The snow will be flying before we know it. You can rest then!

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