On our back patio is a small lily puddle with a couple of fish and a small lead frog spitting water. During the summer, water evaporates and every few days I have to add water to top it off. Most years. Not this year. This year I have not needed to haul the hose over once. We have had ample rain, probably a result of climate change; everything else is.
A hot summer with ample rain is great for gardens, even better for weeds, especially vining weeds about which I have railed before. Potatoes have done moderately well, would have done better if I had fertilized as often as I swore in spring. I am anxious to see what the dahlias have going underground; I will know too soon.
One result of a rainy summer is that it robs me of one of my normal columns for fall – watering. It is important that perennials and trees and shrubs have ample water before winter sets in. That’s not a problem this year. Except for one thing.
Every few days I check the near-dead plant cart at Lowe’s. (Home Depot would rather throw distressed plants out than sell them to me at a discount.) It loads up this time of year. And soon they will make a real effort to get rid of their remaining shrubs and perennials, half or three quarters price. Cheap plants are my drug of choice and rehab has never worked.
Fall planting involves some special considerations, especially when the things being planted are not quite in prime condition. Normally I keep new plants in their pots for a while, move them around until I decide just where I want them. Usually wrong, but they can always be moved next season. But these need to be in the ground as quickly as possible to give them time to recover and establish.
I dig a generous but not huge hole and spade a copious amount of compost into the bottom. Next spring I’ll give it some stronger fertilizer, but not now. The compost will provide some nutrition without spurring new top growth that would be frozen off in winter.
I loosen the root ball if it is wound around the bottom and plop it in the hole. I fill in around the sides, tamping it down firmly. Then I form a saucer of earth around the base and, yes, water it in thoroughly. I’ll water it again later this fall. I trim off any dead parts.
Then I spread a thick layer of bark mulch extending out well beyond the original hole. This is important. You want to keep the ground as warm as possible so the new roots can grow, and when the ground eventually freezes you want it to stay frozen so it doesn’t heave and snap the new roots.
If you don’t have compost to dig in, shame on you. It’s not like I haven’t told you before. But now is the time to fix that. You know you’ve been meaning to for years, decades for some.
A likely reason you have never gotten around to it is because you have been putting off building or buying a compost frame. So I’m going to rid you of that excuse. Don’t make a frame, not even the easy ones of a few feet of vinyl fencing formed into a circle, and certainly don’t spend money on one. Store bought frames are not only unnecessarily expensive, they also don’t work very well. I know that for a fact.
Here’s what you do. When you cut down all your vegetable plants and annuals and perennials, throw them in a pile out behind the garage. That’s it. Even you can do that. If the spirit moves you, it is a good idea to chop large pieces up into smaller pieces; it gives you the feeling that you are doing something.
That’s it. Do it!