This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
As I am writing this column on the last days of September it is raining vigorously and I am feeling like fall is definitely in the air. But as you read this in early October the forecasters are predicting a 75 degree weekend so you decide if it is the end of summer or the beginning of fall. Either way there are lots of gardening chores to do like planting new shrubs and trees, dividing overgrown perennials, establishing that new or renovated lawn, replacing tired container plantings and sneaking in some spring blooming bulbs.
Don’t waste this opportunity to do some last minute tweaking before winter comes to stay.
WATERING: Now, this might seem like an odd topic this time of year but I need to remind you that despite the scattered rains we have received recently, the ground is still very dry and it would be prudent to help Mother Nature by getting out the hose and soaking the beds and lawn at least one time this month. Just trust me on this one, it’s worth the effort and expense. (If you don’t believe me then just dig a hole and see for yourself.)
LAWNS: This is the absolute last month to overhaul or plant a new lawn. If you haven’t applied a fall fertilizer yet then October is a great time to do it. Use an organic fertilizer that won’t leach out of the soil with the first rains.
ROSES: Stop fertilizing and let your roses slow down and mature. Leave a few finished blooms on to form hips. Don’t do any hard pruning now, just a little sniping to tidy them up. Once the nights get into the 30’s then we can do some serious mulching and pruning but that usually doesn’t happen until November. Learn more about roses in our November 2nd class, Putting Roses to Bed.
PERENNIALS: There are still some late bloomers that look great: asters, mums, Japanese anemones, cone flowers, Russian sage, sedum and toad lilies to name just a few. Ornamental grasses are just spectacular now. Enjoy the last blooms of the season and don’t rush to tidy things up. There are lots of seeds in those old flower heads that the birds will enjoy. Wait until the first frost to really start cleaning up the perennial beds. In fact, you can even wait until mid to late February to do it.
CONTAINERS: I just finished cleaning out my containers of summer color and it’s time to replant with hardy perennials, ground covers and even shrubs for the winter. For color of course nothing beats pansies and violas.
BULBS: This is the consummate month for planting bulbs. With some careful planning you can have blooming bulbs from January until June, sometimes all in the same pot. Don’t forget to add some bone meal when you plant.
VEGETABLES: Plant fall crops now and control winter weeds by either laying-on a one inch layer of compost or planting a cover crop. Building a cloche (a temporary greenhouse-type structure) will also help to produce a successful winter crop. Root and leaf crops can both be planted this month.
FALL COLOR: This is the best month to experience fall color in the northwest. Traditional plants like maples, mountain ashes, sumacs and burning bushes are coming into their glory as we speak. Come visit the nursery and see other plants that also are great fall color additions to the garden.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org