A GROWING CONCERN: As temps, colors change, don’t shirk garden duties

SOON, A RAINBOW of color will wash all of the deciduous trees around us with the magnificent colors of fall foliage.

October is the beginning of my busiest times of year, second only to May.

My fall work will culminate in December, when hard pruning begins, but for now, it is a flurry of activity as the sun fades in intensity, the dew lies heavy on the yard, the rains begin and the temperature plummets.

So as long as I am working, so should you. Here is another chore list of the things to do as we move into the second weekend of autumn.

1. Autumn brings some of the best weather conditions for starting a variety of plants.

As the weather cools, the sun lowers to shorter days with less intensity and the rains return, many new plants can settle their roots into the soil more easily. Perennials, bulbs, lawns and trees all find autumn a superb time to be planting.

For those of us nestled in the foothills, I would begin immediately on planting and overseeding the lawn.

This big difference will soon begin to happen in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley and milder climates in Jefferson County, as temperatures stay significantly warmer through fall, showing a great tendency for drier weather.

I believe these conditions translate out to Oct. 10-Nov. 10 as your planting time.

2. Propagate. Decide now whether there are any plants that you want to asexually reproduce, taking cuttings before frost, disease or molds claim them.

So if you want to reproduce those expensive fuchsias, geraniums, lantanas or verbenas (along with anything else), now is the ideal time to take cuttings before cool night temperatures “wooden up” the stems.

Always cut off any buds or flowers, leaving only two to five small leaves, always using root tone.

Remember, proper root cuttings must have lots of light and warm soil (72- to 78-degree soil temperature).

3. Germinate. Yep, the fall rains are amassing and the temperatures are ideal for many types of sowing.

Overseed your lawn with a winter blend. Start a wildflower area these next few weeks with seed. Broadcast desirable perennial seed like lupine and keep sowing radishes, leaf lettuce, kale and salad greens.

Don’t give up on the veggie garden; just snip those slugs in half when you see them trying to eat your salad before you get to.

4. Cold frames/frost protection. I just received a card from my buddy Jack Frost, and he said he’d be out on the Peninsula in a few weeks for an all-encompassing garden tour — with your yard being on the list.

To prepare for his arrival, gather cloth, not clear plastic, and drive down stakes for cover support, cleaning out an area for your containers to spend some cold nights under shelter.

Buy, build, beg or borrow — no stealing — a cold frame or two, and I promise you will love this garden tool both now and again in the spring (or you can grow greens, radishes all year long).

5. Feed the beast. I know I’ve pushed phosphorus on you three times already; however, autumn has your plants requiring lots of specific nutrients.

Fertilize everything so your plants don’t suffer from nutrient deficiency.

Use specific fertilizers made for your exact plants (rhodie food for rhododendrons, rose food for roses).

And for your lawn and other plants, get autumn blends that are lower in nitrogen to avoid new, weak growth that will be damaged by early frost.

As for your annual flowers or baskets, let the normal fertilizer fly because they will be dead in 1½ months.

6. Herbs. In the fall, trim woody perennial herbs, but with no more than one-third their growth. Do this after they are done blooming or you have removed the flowers.

Cut back the tops of the herbaceous perennials such as tansy, mint, bee balm and yarrow. You must have some bottom growth remaining on these plants, for they will grow into December.

Now is also a great time in the herb garden to cultivate and add bone meal.

7. Weeds. Oh boy, it is the invasion of the garden snatchers again.

Seedpods are ripe everywhere, and your yard is prized real estate.

Kill, pull, rip, dig, chop and spread germination inhibitors. Be ever so diligent now for a relatively weed-free spring 2018. (Please, please stay atop the weeds now.)

8. Begin the cutback. Starting now but finishing in November or December, begin looking for and cutting back perennials. Remove only those leaves and plant parts that are dying.

The more gradually you cut away the plants, the better it will set up dormancy. More perennials are destroyed here on the Peninsula by premature fall cutbacks (cleanup) than any other cause.

9. Tender/specimen plants. Dig up and plant tender plants for moving indoors. Basil, gerberas, lemon grass, double impatiens, begonias and verbena all can be brought indoors for the winter.

These plants will take several weeks to recover from the shock, and outdoor conditions are perfect now for recovery.

In two weeks, wash them several times with lukewarm water and a mild soapy water (detergents do not work) to remove pests. Be sure to rinse thoroughly with water, then fertilize lightly and move them indoors.

10. Grass. Autumn is an active time for the lawn.

Your lawn desires a fall/winter fertilizer, especially considering our soils. The next few days are the perfect time.

Make sure you get a fall or winter fertilizer blend. Many places discount to move out their summer fertilizers, so beware: You want a winter blend.

Fall overseeds are a great way to thicken your grass and fill in the bare spots before weeds move in.

I personally like to let my grass grow tall now — 3½ inches or more. Then, everyone should be cutting short from October to November, minimizing the moisture-related diseases.

Wooden benches, wooden tables and items not wanting to get moldy or soiled all winter should be moved in now or protected using patio covers.

It isn’t recommended that you move propane tanks indoors unless all of the fuel has been exhausted first. Storing fuel in a room that has a common wall to the house can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, so be cautious as you move into autumn mode.

With the fall colors coming on now, I think it is a great time to take a stroll through the nurseries for some eye-candy crimson red or burnt-orange leaf color, so go ahead and make a date with your sweetie and see if you don’t just “fall” in love all over again as you stroll hand in gloved hand, keeping an umbrella handy and your galoshes in the car, just in case.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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