Winter is approaching; while we still have pretty days to garden, spend them outside. Last week it was 70 degrees, tomorrow morning the weather forecasters say it will be about 30 plus degrees. We finally have had some rain after weeks of dry days. Here are a few chores and fun things to do to "put your garden to bed."
Plant cold weather color such as pansies and snap dragons. Winter is the time to put spring blooming bulbs in the ground. In our climate zone tulips are considered an annual but daffodils can last for many seasons. A little research will help you choose daffodils which are more tolerant of summers heat and humidity. There are so many bulbs in the trade–have fun and plant a few new ones. Quality companies providing nice bulbs also provide wonderful planting instructions. You can check on garden watchdog.com for a company’s reputation.
The leaves and the pine straw are falling as fast as we can clean them up making now the perfect time to start a compost pile. There is an art to building a great compost pile with a certain mix of ingredients. The Extension Service at ACES.EDU has informative publications on how to have successful compost.
Since we have an abundance of materials, now is a great time to mulch your gardens and flower beds. Since I don’t get enough straw, I often rake up what others are throwing away for mulch for my garden. Mulch will help improve your soil, protect your plants from the cold, and provide a pleasing look to your garden. Leaves chopped up with a lawnmower make an excellent mulch; be careful using fresh grass clippings, which may have been sprayed with herbicides and fertilizers, directly on the garden. Better to add them to the compost heap and let them decompose for next year.
Take a look at your trees as the leaves are falling off and remove any dead or diseased limbs. Now is not the time to remove living, healthy limbs with a major pruning. Pruning healthy limbs now on trees or plants will encourage them to sprout. This tender foliage can be bitten off when the cold does arrive.
Clean up your perennial and annual gardens. It is nice to leave the heads on your coneflowers for the birds to eat the seed. Speaking of birds, make sure your bird feeders are clean and stocked with fresh seed; keep your bird baths supplied with clean water so the birds have a drink.
Hoses can be drained and stored; irrigation systems turned off, and faucets wrapped for the winter. Make sure lawn tools are drained of gasoline if you don’t intend to use them over the winter.
And the most important thing about this change of seasons is that we are entering the best time of the year to plant in our area. Your new additions can spend the winter months developing a strong root system without worrying about flowers and new growth. Mother Nature will help keep them watered. (However, if we have extended dry spells you may need to provide a little extra moisture to brand new plantings.)
"Putting the garden" to bed is a great exercise; it will be neat and ready to face the harsh days of winter. The garden and you will have a whole new attitude.
Hayes Jackson is presenting a workshop, "Camellias for the Winter Landscape," at Cane Creek Community Gardens from 10 until 3 on November 8th at Cane Creek Community Gardens. Lunch is provided. The cost is $15. You must pre-register with the Extension office (256-237-1621) by November 5 so they know how much food to prepare.
About this time of the year many of our summer flowers are beginning to look a little faded but the fall flowers are coming into their own. One of these is the ginger lily (hedychium) which blooms mid to late summer/early fall giving your garden a vibrant burst of color. Ginger lily blooms are not only beautiful, but also have a heavenly fragrance. This carefree perennial spreads by underground rhizomes and can quickly form a sizable clump; in a few years you will have lots to share or to start a new spot in your landscape. I normally dig and divide in the spring. Make certain to plant them where you will have the opportunity to stop and smell the stalk-like flower on a daily basis. Ginger flowers grow on top of long stems; the plants have very large leaves. They prefer well-drained fertile soil and ample water during the summer. There are very large gingers that can grow 8 feet tall and the dwarf ones which may get just a couple of feet high. Gingers come in all sorts of colors. Although they can handle full sun, if their roots are shaded, gingers much prefer some light shade, especially from the afternoon sun. Gingers are tropicals and north of our zone 7A/8B they may not survive a harsh winter. Some gingers are less hardy in our climate zone. It is best to do a little research on the growing habits of a particular ginger before you add it to your garden. It is possible also to plant them in large pots but they will need additional winter protection if you do. Cut back the long stem at the first frost and mulch the roots well. The following summer the gingers will emerge from the ground soon again delighting your senses of smell and sight. Not only will they draw in the humans in the household, but the hummingbirds and the butterflies will also start visiting them.
A ginger in bloom reminds me of a trip to some far away tropical paradise; if you can’t make the trip in person, a ginger in your garden can still take you there.