Please Continue to Water!

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The sunny, dry warmth continues here in the Magical Mid-Atlantic, particularly in the D.C. area, where I live. I am seeing a lot of stress in gardens, especially on plants that haven’t been in the ground too long. Please continue to water. My irrigation system has been running daily, and I am supplementing, by hand-watering, as needed. We need a few long, slow rains!

  • Please be sure to lay the hose down at the base of the trunk/stem of your plants—water on a slow trickle—and allow the water to seep in slowly. Large trees, particularly, have big, deep rootballs and the water must get into the ground deeply so the trees don’t die. DO NOT depend solely on irrigation systems during the first couple of years your new plants are in the ground—monitor your plants for water. Remember that newly-planted items do not have the means to absorb surrounding water, until they root. The bigger the new plant/transplant, the more water it’s going to need. I cannot stress this enough. Several clients have purchased Gator Bags recently, for their new trees—these bags can be filled with water and they allow the water to seep slowly into the soil. They are a good alternative, if you are strapped for time and aren’t watering enough.

With the turning of the seasons comes a list of things to do to put your garden to bed for the Winter season so it can rest:

  • Bring inside your tender houseplants and tropical plants. Check for insects and spray accordingly, if you believe in spraying. Once inside, I give them as much light as possible and only water enough to keep them alive. I could care less if they grow over the winter…the only reason I have them inside is to decorate the rooms and keep them alive until I can put them out again the following April. By then, they are beyond ready to go back outside.
  • ***Continue watering, as needed, until you put the hoses away for the Winter. Drain Gator Bags and bring them in for winter storage. Once the hard freezes arrive, be sure to turn off your outdoor spigots from the inside and store your hoses for the Winter, out of the harsh weather.
  • As you change your clocks this weekend (Daylight Savings Time ends overnight this Saturday night), change the batteries in your smoke alarms (the twice yearly time changes are good seasonal reminders). And check your dryer vents, too. You’d be surprised how many people forget to check their dryer vents—they can get clogged and become a great fire hazard. There are companies out there to clean the vents for you, if you are not into doing it yourself.

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Other Fall gardening notes:

  • It’s a great time to plant new plants and to transplant shrubs that might be in the wrong place. They will spend the winter rooting while the tops of the plants go dormant, and they will be ready to grow in the spring. I think that fall planting is the best-kept secret in the gardening world. There are exceptions: certain plants don’t establish themselves very well in the fall, for whatever strange reason; and things that are marginally hardy—at the northern limit of their hardiness range where you live–should not be planted in the fall because they might not have time to root well before the cold weather sets in. They have a better chance of surviving the first couple of winters if they are well-rooted; thus, these marginal plants should be put in the ground in the spring, so they can root throughout the growing season.
  • I don’t like to fertilize shrubs in the fall—especially broadleaf evergreens–because it promotes new growth on the remaining warm days of fall—only to be frozen off when the hard freezes come in. It’s best to let your plants go dormant naturally so they can withstand the winter cold more easily, especially if the winter turns out to be severe. It’s a great time to fertilize deciduous (leaf-losing) trees, however, as they go dormant.
  • No major pruning should occur now; new growth should not be promoted due to the coming hard freezes. Plants should be allowed to go dormant. Minor trimming and shaping are fine; just no major pruning unless you absolutely have to do it. A great time to prune evergreens is during the holidays, when you might want to bring in some greens to decorate.
  • Get the weeds out now! They are all setting seeds and those seeds mean many more weeds next year. Save some time, in advance, by weeding now when the weather is nice.
  • Seasonal color—pansies/violas, mums, ornamental cabbage and kale—these and other seasonal plantings can go in now. Pansies/violas should make it until spring and should revive after any winter dormancy; ornamental cabbage and kale often get fried in the first bad freeze; and you decide on the mums…they are perennial and could possibly come back and bloom next year, depending on the variety. Most people replant them every year, though. Another alternative is to plant your pots with evergreen perennial: e., autumn fern; Carex ‘Everillo’; and small shrubs:  dwarf conifers, small boxwoods, and Nandina ‘Firepower’. You can even use sprays of red- or gold-stemmed dogwood, stuck into the middle of your pots for height. [Thanks to my brilliant friend, Barbara Katz, for her excellent suggestions.]

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  • Bulbs—this is the time to plant. All bulbs can go in now until the ground freezes hard. And remember to buy the best quality tulips and hyacinths you can afford…they decline after a few years in our hot, summer soil. Think of tulips as a present to yourself and buy them fresh every year to get the best show. If you love tulips, it’s worth the money. And remember: deer love tulips, but won’t touch daffodils.

Let me know if I can help you with anything this fall—we are still going strong. I like to accomplish plantings by Thanksgiving, if possible, and we continue with stone work, irrigation, lighting, woodwork, fencing, etc., as long as the weather allows. We will continue with fall maintenance, as well.

Happy Fall and I’ll have more in my Holiday Newsletter, just before Thanksgiving. Hope all of you are well and happy.

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This post was written by Jeff Minnich on November 3, 2016