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Plenty to do in garden before winter takes hold

| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 8:55 p.m.
Chionodoxa or Glory of Snow have pretty blue flowers in the early spring and will form a colony in just a few years.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
Chionodoxa or Glory of Snow have pretty blue flowers in the early spring and will form a colony in just a few years.
Hostas are shade loving perennials that come in many colors and sizes. These varieties are all large leaf hostas.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
Hostas are shade loving perennials that come in many colors and sizes. These varieties are all large leaf hostas.
Corydalis lutea is a long blooming perennial plant that's deer resistant.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
Corydalis lutea is a long blooming perennial plant that's deer resistant.
A red leaf falls on hosta foliage. Hostas can be planted until the ground freezes.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
A red leaf falls on hosta foliage. Hostas can be planted until the ground freezes.
Chionodoxa or Glory of Snow have pretty blue flowers in the early spring and will form a colony in just a few years.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
Chionodoxa or Glory of Snow have pretty blue flowers in the early spring and will form a colony in just a few years.
The leaves and bark of Japanese maple 'Bihou' turn from green to yellow, the bark will then turn red after the foliage falls
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
The leaves and bark of Japanese maple 'Bihou' turn from green to yellow, the bark will then turn red after the foliage falls
The leaves and bark of Japanese maple 'Bihou' turn from green to yellow, the bark will then turn red after the foliage falls
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
The leaves and bark of Japanese maple 'Bihou' turn from green to yellow, the bark will then turn red after the foliage falls

My fingertips begin stinging and then go numb while pushing the last cloves of garlic into the cold soil as deep red maple leaves float down around me, forming a magenta mat over the vegetable garden.

I've written about bulbs and garlic over the past few weeks, as planting both have always been part of my fall ritual. Both can be planted until the ground freezes. Sooner is better though, so they have time to get established.

But there's a lot more to do before winter takes hold.

Try different bulbs

Letting gardeners know about interesting varieties is one of the things I love about my job. Chionodoxa or Glory of Snow have found their way into my bulb-planting sermon, given to any gardener who will listen. These tiny bulbs only need to be tucked an inch or less below the surface now and will appear next April right after the crocus. They are deer resistant and never nibbled on by the four-legged marauders that ravage my garden.

C. forbesii is the most common, producing sprays of small blue flowers with white centers, eventually forming a ground cover of 6-inch-tall flowers. ‘Pink Giant' has an ironic name as it only reaches 8 inches. ‘Violet Beauty' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs (877-661-2852 or brentandbeckysbulbs.com) has dark pink, light purple flowers for something even more unique.

Good deals abound

Being the world's cheapest gardener, I'm also searching garden centers for deals on trees and shrubs, which are best planted in the fall, too. Short days and cold temperatures assure the plants don't put on top growth and concentrate on making roots.

Many nurseries would prefer to give the plants a new home than care for them through the winter. I've lost a few trees for various reasons over the past two seasons and I'm looking for replacements.

Years ago, I found an interesting Japanese maple, which has become the centerpiece in the back of a perennial border. ‘Bihou' makes a stunning statement in the fall as the leaves and bark change from green to bright yellow. When the leaves are gone, the stems of the tree transform to bright red.

The 12-foot specimen was found at Bedner's Farm and Greenhouse (724-926-2541 or bednersgreenhouse.com) in Cecil for only $50. It was tired looking, but owner Russ Bedner assured me it would thrive. He was right and to this day I tell him, “I think I got you on that one, Russ.” He just smiles and reluctantly agrees.

There are an infinite number of different cultivars of Japanese maples, most are tough, beautiful and the diversity in sizes makes it easy to find the right one for your landscape.

Find new varieties

Sometimes I'm forced to pay retail, usually when falling in love with a new variety. That's what happened when stumbling on Pieris japonica ‘Fire N Ice' at Hahn Nursery (412-635-7475 or hahnnursery.com) in Ross. I'd never seen a variegated version of a Japanese pieris and was smitten.

There are many standard varieties in my garden, but this one offers year round interest. The white and green variegated leaves stay all winter, then tiny, fragrant white bell-shaped flowers are followed by new foliage that emerges red. When looking for things to add to the landscape, it's fun to discover plants that can be stars in the landscape for longer than a few weeks.

It should be fun to shop for plants, never a chore. Take your time, ask questions, look for something that moves you and won't get too big for its space.

Bargain perennials

Perennials are plants that return on their own each year and they can often be found for a song this time of the year.

The foliage of most hostas have died back in the pots they are sold in. Take a look at the tag to see what the plant looks like in its prime. I buy a lot of hostas this way and plant the roots now. They are indestructible and should thrive in the garden for generations. Hostas are shade loving plants that come in a multitude of sizes and colors. The flowers are attractive to pollinators like hummingbirds and some varieties have huge leaves that can be used for flower arrangements.

Corydalis lutea is my favorite long-blooming perennial. The plant is tough as nails, will grow in dry shade or part sun and forms a colony in a few years. In the shade, it grows to 18 inches with gray, greenish foliage topped by small yellow flowers. Growing out in the sun it will reach 3 feet in height. While most perennials last for weeks, Corydalis will bloom from April into November or later depending on the severity of the winter. The deer have never touched it in my garden, I even use it in containers because it's always filled with flowers.

Many gardeners make the mistake of putting their shovel in storage this time of the year. Planting now will bring years of joy and color in the garden.

Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or doster@535mediallc.com. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.

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