A GROWING CONCERN: Get to the root of fall gardening

BOY, THE WEATHER has changed! Now the cool, damp days of fall are definitely upon us. That change ushers in many new and ideally timed garden chores!

First, start with a not so gentle nudge (actually a good swift kick in the shovel) in an attempt to get you planting. I want to impress upon you the benefits of planting most items mid- and late-fall, and the need to do this while the memory of water shortage is still very fresh in your mind.

Make no mistake, dry summers are the norm here on the North Olympic Peninsula. Most of us get caught up in the seasonal rut where the majority of our planting is in April, May and June. And although this is the correct time for many items, such as dahlias or marigolds, now is the perfect time for many more plants. This is because the weather has gone cool and wet.

Cool and wet is an ideal pair for most perennial-type plants because it allows for a stress-free transition, especially when accompanied by the ensuing dormancy now with many types of plants.

Rather than being put into scorching dry soil while trying to grow and adapt to a new environment, trees, shrubs, roses, ground covers, vines, berries, fruit, nuts, bushes, bulbs and perennials planted now have months to produce a root system before and called on to make new, lush growth. And if the root system is allowed to develop well, the plant will thrive quite nicely.

This is why plants go into shock or grow slowly when planted around the yard during the summer. It is difficult to keep the ground moist and the roots are limited and damaged when transplanted, thus becoming shocked and stressed.

Ready for next spring.

In the fall, most perennial plants do the majority of root development, growing outward in preparation for next spring’s new growth spurt. This is another reason why November is the time to plant. Your new trees, and the like, will heal in very well, producing new roots without the bother of having to support top growth with its high energy demands.

In the spring, as dormancy breaks, all new microscopic hair roots will burst forth, sending up copious amounts of moisture and nutrient for great first-year growth. Because the new plant was placed in the fall, it will have gone through a whole winter and spring, leading it to believe it has always been there. This creates growth delay acclimation.

While the nurseries and greenhouses still have great inventory and selection, go get any perennial thing you think you might plant in the next 9 months and do so now! Take full advantage of Mother Nature’s automatic, free watering system, while capitalizing on the plant’s natural cycle of rest and root development to enjoy plants already established next year with little effort. Sounds like an all-around winner to me. You are further beautifying your home and community as well!

Tackling the lawn.

Next is your lawn. The word grass, if you will recall, is actually an acronym — Grueling Repetitive Annual Seasonal Service.

The Latin “Gras” means endless horticultural folly or green quagmire. Grass is defined as a plant grown in a colony, which provides endless work and is short on satisfaction. Grass is more likely an obsession or an addiction, requiring constant attention and money (bigger, better mowers and blowers).

But regardless what path you and your lawn walk together, mid-autumn (these next 4 weeks) is the best time for most enhancement and maintenance jobs.

That’s because grass seed germinates so well now and sod adheres to the ground perfectly because of that fall root-growth cycle we just talked about. Overseeding your lawn is also an extremely environmental, organic way to fight weeds, particularly if you overseed both in the spring and fall.

Currently, conditions of moisture, temperature and a dramatic change in your outdoor activities combine for the perfect opportunity to greatly improve the lawn.

First, cut the lawn extremely low, as low as you can without scalping it, thus removing the bulk and allowing the ever fading sun and wind to help dry it out.

Next, apply a good dose of dolomite, or pelletized lime at the rate of 60 to 80 lb per 1,000 square foot. Do this as soon as possible.

Then, edge your lawn and reestablish the borders today before all your work causes the grass to spread into the garden, amongst the landscaping or in your pathways.

Finally, go get some really great treats for Halloween.

And stay well all!


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 news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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