As summer begins to take its leave and autumn stands patiently waiting, we feel a need to redirect our garden energies. The change of seasons signals a shift in our focus from the daily maintenance of watering, deadheading and mowing to fall planting and preparation for the winter season. Inherent in the passage of one season to the next is a desire to plan ahead for the changes to come.
The surest sign of summer giving way to fall is a crisp feeling of change in the air. The calendar shows that summer came to an end and autumn has begun but the noonday sun can still be quite summery. Nevertheless, gardeners seem to know that something new is in the air long before anyone else begins to notice. For us, it's like having a sixth sense. Along with the change of seasons, the focus of garden chores takes a distinct turn at this time of year.
For gardeners with a natural bent to their gardens, it means we stop deadheading many perennials instead of encouraging another flush of bloom. Let a few of your garden favorites go to seed, providing interest and birdscaping for your fall and winter garden. Black-eyed Susan and Sunflowers can hold their seed heads well into winter. The birds will thank you for the nourishment packed inside the spent flower heads.
Once the weather really begins to change and the fall rains begin, there are specific planting chores ideal for this time of year. By planting hardy perennials, trees or shrubs in the fall, you assure a period of perfect growth conditions for new plantings. If you want to move shrubs, now is a good time. Transplant evergreens successfully by watering well for several days both before and after the move.
When you plant in mid- to late autumn, the cooler temperature encourages the plant to expend its energy where it needs to at this time of year, under the soil. We can expect the rains to come, but even if there are lulls in the rain, the sun begins to fall from a different angle. At this angle, the heat no longer leaches all the moisture out of the soil. The earth below the surface still retains a degree of warmth. This also helps properly prepare the plants for a period of dormancy.
One way to start is by taking advantage of the distinctive environment in which we live. A long autumn season and a temperate winter are both generous attributes. It means that autumn is one of the best times of year for planting shrubs and trees and that we can literally continue planting right on through the months of winter. The best gardens take advantage of what the land and weather have to offer.
Most gardeners who have already created a landscaped garden have come to see the importance of a major focal point in the garden. You can fill your garden with plants, ornamentation or kitschy art but without a distinct focal point it is hard to focus and see the garden as a landscaped picture. This is a good time of year to tackle just such a project.
Planning a garden can seem like an overwhelming endeavor, especially to the novice gardener. Even a professional landscape architect knows that all the elements of building a garden from scratch won't completely come together in the first year, let alone in one day. First you make a plan, and then you focus on different facets of that plan until the garden comes to fruition.
One thing that many gardeners strive for is a low-maintenance garden. May I suggest that you take that idea down to its lowest common denominator? At some level, garden maintenance is simply gardening. If you include perennials in your garden and you want to extend the season of flower bloom, part of the maintenance of those plants will be deadheading. If you want a lawn and you want it to look its best, it will need to be mowed.
Much of what we do in the early fall season is thoughtful preparation for the upcoming winter and for next year. As the summer wanes and fall begins, our gardens invite us to undergo a metamorphosis along with them. Before you go to bed tonight, take a moment to think about any changes you'd like to make in your garden. Let your imagination take you wherever it wants to go. This, too, is a part of gardening.
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.