A GROWING CONCERN: Fall into autumn gardening tasks

AS YOU LOOK across your garden and yard today, the last two days of summer, autumn arrives tomorrow at 12:50 a.m.

You will notice a distinct change in your plants.

Your lovely annual flowers that so beautifully adorned your flower baskets, pot containers and ornamental beds are exactly that — annual.

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 blasé attitude rob them of weeks of beautiful blooms.

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

And do not forget that our pattern here on the North Olympic Peninsula is a couple of isolated frosts followed by a few weeks of very nice, sunny, warm Indian summer.

So lube up the garden cart, pump up the tires on the dolly, or clean out the wheelbarrow — soon you will need them to ferry your containerized plants under cover.

Cover me

Sheets or tarps placed over (not laid directly atop) your plants also will protect them against the first several frosts. Clear plastic does not work.

The goal is to keep your flowers online until Nov. 1. How great would that be?

If it can work in Green Bay, Wis., it will certainly work here.

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


The big rule in fall fertilizer regimens is the reduction of nitrogen in your nutrient blends.

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 (grass, trees, shrubs, perennials, ground cover, vines), plants will not only relish a heaping helping of bone meal, but many plants, like 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 number one reason that bulbs do not flower well next 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 nutrients and moisture up into the plant.

• Strong 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 fruits and flowers. When buying bone meal, always buy the steam 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.

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 does) that is an excellent source of potash provided that it is not composed from treated wood or contain the remnants of the garbage burn barrel. Other excellent sources of potash include compost, aged manure, green sand and granite dust.

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

Protect your plants and feed them.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and 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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