A GROWING CONCERN: Prepare protections for plants before first frost

WITH ALL THE work I gave you the last two weeks, I am sure as you look across your garden and yard today (Day 9 of early, early fall), you will notice a distinct change in your plants.

Your lovely annual flowers that so beautifully adorn your flower baskets, pot containers and ornamental bed are exactly that: annuals.

They are not hardy to the freezes of fall and will quickly succumb to the ravages of frost.

But careful gardeners can determine which frost will destroy them and not let a blase attitude rob them of weeks of beautiful blooms.

Never forget that our first few frosts are extremely light in nature, and simply having an unheated carport, breezeway or shed to place these botanical treasures in will save them.

Providing a simple shelter, even unheated, will postpone their demise for weeks.

And don’t forget that our pattern here on the North Olympic Peninsula is a couple of isolated frosts followed by a few weeks of very nice, summer-like weather.

So lube up the garden cart, pump up the hires on the dolly or clean out the wheelbarrow, because soon you will need these to ferry your containerized plants under shelter.

Sheets or tarps placed over (not laid directly on top) of your plants will protect them as well against the first several frosts (clear plastic does not work).

The goal is to keep your flowers online until Nov. 1.

If this trick can work in Green Bay, Wis., it will certainly work here in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

A good soaking of the soil with water just prior to the early morning frost also helps protect plants.

And as long as you are pulling out the hoses, why not water in some fertilizer?

Right now is the perfect time to apply the fall fertilizer so critically needed by most of your plants in order to survive this winter and flourish next spring.

The big rule in fall fertilizer regimens is the reduction of nitrogen in your nutrient blends. (Nitrogen is the first number of the three on the package.)

Nitrogen does many things, of which growing new green leaves is a primary response.

This time of year, heading into snow, ice and the dark of winter, the last thing we need is young, tender, fresh growth.

Bone meal, which is coveted for its rich and slow release of phosphorus, is truly the miracle drug of the autumn arboretum.

Pretty much any perennial plant (grass, trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines) will not only relish a heaping helping of bone meal, but many plants such as your spring bulbs, wisteria or flowering perennials require this type of nutrient for successful bloom and performance next year.

By far, lack of a good fall fertilizer is the No. 1 reason bulbs do not flower well in the spring.

Bone meal (phosphorus) nourishes several important plant functions that include:

• Strong roots. Bone meal is the key to good over-wintering as well as maximum ability to bring nutrient and moisture up into the plant.

• Sturdy cellular wall and healthy growth are crucial factors in over-wintering as well as an increased ability to fight disease and insects.

• Fruit and flower production. Once the plant survives winter, it is all about prolific fruit and flowers.

When buying bone meal, always buy the stem and ground products. They are far better for your plants because the phosphorus is readily available.

Do not overlook potassium, one of the three major nutrients for plants. Potassium is the last letter/number of three (x-y-z) on the product wrapper. Commonly called potash, potassium is required for plants to resist disease, ripen fruit, prevent excess evaporation in dry weather and protect plants from cold weather.

And in cold weather, we burn wood (or your neighbor might), which is an excellent source of potash, provided it was a clean burn and not contaminated with illegal materials such as treated lumber.

Other excellent sources of potash include compost, aged manure green sand and granite dust.

So with autumn descending upon us this month, let’s take steps to enjoy our summer plants until November, while feeding our lawn and garden in order to achieve a vibrant spring next year.

Happy October.


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] (subject line: Andrew May).

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