This cooler weather ushers in one of my favorite gardening seasons. Mums abound in almost every shape, size, and color, I've planted the first of the winter-blooming pansies, and the kids and I picked the first pumpkins from our garden. I define this time as the gardeners' "redecorating" time of year. It's when we leave our summer gardens to photos or memory and prepare for our cold weather landscapes.
I've changed our containers from their cargos of overgrown summer plants to fresh new winter blooming flowers. You read that right; 'winter blooming flowers', and it's not an oxymoronic phrase. Our colorful container gardens end up being little oases in a sea of brown, twig-ridden, winter landscapes. There's nothing like pansies showing their colorful faces above the first snows around Christmas!
The secret to winter blossoms is all in the timing. To bloom throughout winter, flowers should be planted before the colder nights arrive, usually by the end of October. Planting now gives roots time to fully develop, and well-established roots are essential to cold weather plants. Strong root systems enable plants to tolerate harsh winter weather.
So rip those summer bloomers out of the ground and out of their containers, frost is going to take them anyway. Then plant some fall color and highlights for the coming winter. Maybe you'd like to "redecorate" the entrance to your home with some dusty miller, snapdragons, pansies, ornamental kales, violas, and/or mums. The "icing" to this seasonal decor can be the fall pumpkins that are being harvested now.
This week of rains kicked off the most important plant feeding of the year for any garden. The right plant food put on plants now through October will increase the brightness of autumn plant colors and maintain the richness of evergreens in our yards. Without it, plants are unable to withstand the coming months of cold and become emaciated, thin, and weak.
In preparation for winter, landscaped and native plants are storing up food in their root structures. Plants use this food to create next spring's leaf buds and flowers. In addition, this feeding is especially important for conifers like ponderosas and cedars to fend off destructive pinion pine scale and bark beetles.
Natives also should be fed, especially the majestic specimen trees that are irreplaceable. Keep these plants healthy with this fall feeding program and they naturally will fend off scale, tip borers, and bark beetles. Strong, healthy plants can deal with the elements better than weak, even sick, trees are able to cope. This feeding also will enhance their colors, causing alligator juniper and spruce to look bluer and to bring pines to their glossiest greens. Even spring's native wildflowers that grow under these majestic trees will benefit from a touch of food this fall.
Make sure to use a granular plant food that includes soil sulfur. This natural additive will reduce the pH of the soil, thereby increasing the brightness of your plants' autumn colors. Make sure to check a food's active ingredients because many of the national brands leave out this additive necessary to mountain gardening.
I prefer all-natural plant foods for my fall feeding; they are less likely to harm children, pets, or wild birds. I use a 7-4-4 cottonseed-meal-based food. Cottonseed is naturally acidic and when combined with soil sulfur delivers really intense fall colors. I created my 'All Purpose Plant Food, 7-4-4' specifically for our mountain region. I put it on everything in the yard, preferably before the rains have left our skies and definitely by the end of October.
To perpetuate my philosophy that gardening should be as easy as possible, I do not work my fall plant feeding into the soil. Simply "chuck and go" with the plant food; there is no digging required. Through rock, lawn, and soil layers, autumn rains will carry the food to eagerly receptive roots. I simply use a handheld spreader and walk around the yard spreading the granular food as evenly as possible. If some grains falls on the leaves of my pansies or evergreens I simply hose them off when I've finished the application.
Feed your lawn now and it will stay green longer into winter. Feed your spring blooming lilacs, forsythias, and rhododendrons for more fragrant flowers next spring. Feed your winter evergreens and they will keep their greenness without turning that awful winter yellow. Feed perennial flowerbeds and roses for exceptional spring and summer flowers. I can't emphasize this enough: In fall it is important to feed an organic fertilizer to every growing thing in every landscape.
Stop by the garden center for a free garden guide entitled "Feeding the Plants, 4-Steps to a Better Landscape". This two-pager covers the best approach to mountain feeding for the entire year. Just ask for it and it's yours.
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If you want to hear more about local gardening, tune in to my weekly radio show, "The Mountain Gardener", every Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to noon at KQNA 1130AM or 99.9FM. It's an hour of enlightening and entertaining garden tips, tricks, and techniques. The same program also airs on KJZA 89.5AM and 90.1FM every Saturday from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m., and is rebroadcast again on Sunday at the same time.
Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.