A GROWING CONCERN: Ideal time to clean up, plant kale

Kale and cabbage can really grow on you.

AS WE MOVE into the end of October, I believe it is safe to say the weather has changed.

The fall rain pattern has started.

Regardless of what happens with the sun and day temperatures, the length of daylight, its angle and the dew points are now such that our prime growing days are behind us.

That does not mean, however, that your garden should be less than prime, nor does it mean you should start and finish fall cleanup.

We will shortly address to what extent you should begin garden cleanup (which is a really gradual, slow cutback from now until December to March), but for now, let’s address your fall ornamental beds, pots and containers.

We will learn (and buy) why ornamental kale and cabbage are the cornerstones to a knock out monsoon-season beds.

First, I have learned while pushing these incredible plants that there is some resistance to these wonders.

Ornamental kale and cabbage truly grow on you.

To the distractors, their smell and those dead leaves are battle cries.

Well, guess what? We can rid both of those problems with one function: cabbage leaving.

All plants, except impatiens, need maintenance. For kale and cabbage, it’s stripping those bottom large dead or ever-so-slightly yellow leaves away.

With kale and cabbage, this should be a weekly function. They are vigorously growing plants.

Their centers are chock-full of new leaves waiting to burst forward with color all winter long.

That is why you must have them in the garden for the first of the year.

These plants compensate that robust growth on top with a reduction of energy-sucking leaves on the bottom (a common plant characteristic).

The beauty of this trait for you is that 85 percent to 90 percent of the smell is in the old dying leaves. So clean the leaves and eliminate the smell.

As gardeners, we should all cherish those tasks that kill two birds with one stone.

So moving on to yard and fall cleanup, few tasks can do more damage to your plants than a premature fall cleanup.

Fewer things can damage or kill your plant more than too severe of a cutback.

Since the rains are here, along with a lessening of sunny drying days, deadheading is never more important than now.

In the sunlight and breeze, molds, mildew and fungi spread at a snail’s pace when compared to their rate in rain-soaked cool weather.

This time of year, these pests destroy not only the flower but often 80 percent or more of the plants.

So when we are talking fall cleanup, we are stressing the removal of all dead and dying material along with old flowerheads. We are not, however, talking about down-to-the-ground butchery.

The fall cutback is really a fall bed-down. It is a lot of work, but the returns are numerous.

Pruning is the secret.

As we move through fall (today is early mid-fall, to be exact), your various herbaceous plants begin to discolor, die back, go to seed or look poor, or have succumb to frost.

The secret is to prune them back as these cycles happens.

So the same plant may be cut two, three times or more.

The next thing to realize is few perennials get cut back to ground level before late-late winter or the early spring trimester.

So regardless of your personal desire for that neat-and-prim look, it can’t be done now (and should not!).

Especially in our mild, moderate winter weather where dormancy is never really firmly established and the hardest freeze usually comes in February, it is imperative that you follow the slow cutback and natural plant dieback as your line of defense.

As we move to winter, a detailed description of the final cut will be given.

For now, slow and steady is our course.

Since we now know of the need for some kale and cabbage along with spaces appearing all over your yard, and because you have been admiring various beautiful fall foliage bushes and since you need some fall fertilizer, set a course to several local nurseries and greenhouses.

As a special bonus, most of these places are offering big discounts on trees, perennials, roses, bulbs and other selected plants.

On top of that, the weather is with you. There is no better time than the next two months for planting perennials, bulbs, bushes, shrubs and trees.


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 news@peninsula dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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