Snag a few bargains now at the garden center
It’s always a sad day to walk out to the garden after the first hard frost of the season. But as another year of growing tender plants comes to an end, there’s still time to sneak in some bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs. Often times they can be found on sale too.
As the world’s cheapest gardener, it warms my heart to find a bargain. I had two glorious days set aside purely for working in the garden. Of course, I really needed four or five to get everything done, but I’m chipping away at what’s left.
My obsession with bulb planting has been well chronicled here. After planting more than 800 bulbs this season, I’m still scouring nurseries looking for what’s left. “Normal” gardeners might not know it, but bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes solid. There have been seasons where planting continues through December. That includes garlic, as it’s one of the easiest plants to grow and readily available at local nurseries.
Adding trees and shrubs
This is a great time to find trees and shrubs for the landscape. As oak and cherry trees have toppled in my own garden, it’s offered an opportunity to add some other interesting varieties. Over the past two seasons, I’ve planted American hornbeam, sourwood, serviceberry and kousa dogwoods. One of the critical keys to good tree planting is to make sure it’s not planted too deep. There’s something called a root flair that needs to be above ground. Mulching is a good idea, but it should never touch the trunk of the tree.
I found four ‘Gold Coast’ holly shrubs on sale. I spent the weekend working in the garden and took my time to figure out where they should go. For years, hostas have grown along a picket fence that surrounds the vegetable garden.
Over the past three seasons, the deer have found and annihilated them. Even though a repellent like Bobbex will keep them off the foliage, it needs to be applied weekly when it’s raining, and that hasn’t happened. I’m going to move the hostas just inside the fenced-in area and plant the four hollies in their place. You can’t say any plant is deer proof, but they have never bothered the hollies in my garden.
One of the joys of fall gardening is sitting and figuring out what’s working, what’s not and where plants might be happiest. As I’ve gotten older, I’m doing more sitting and thinking between jobs — just as the season has slowed down, so have I. Two days of hauling, digging and planting was joyous, but I was sore in brand new places a day after the work was completed. It’s not really work though, being outside and thinking about the light at the end of the tunnel when these plants will come alive is exhilarating.
Using cold frames
Extending the season in the vegetable garden has also become a yearly tradition for me. The garden is planted with things that thrive in cool weather. Even though they can survive without protection into December, giving them a little help will keep them happier.
There were purple mizuna plants in half-gallon pots for $3 at a local garden center being sold as a late season ornamental. I scooped up six of them and planted the spicy Asian greens in two cold frames to harvest over the winter for the kitchen. A cold frame is simply a small, unheated greenhouse with a translucent or transparent lid. Mine face south and are angled at 35 degrees to best catch the low, winter sun. They are made out of rough-cut cedar, which is naturally rot resistant.
The enclosures don’t have to be that complicated though. A few straw bales with an old storm window on top would work, too. One of the most wonderful finds ever at Construction Junction was some old streetlight covers, purchased for $5 apiece. They are used as individual tiny greenhouses, and each one covers two spinach plants. The glass is a half-inch thick, providing lots of protection for the greens. Spinach, arugula, tatsoi, kale, lettuce, beets and other plants are all growing out in the vegetable garden with some kind of protection.
A floating row cover is a spun bound, lightweight translucent fabric that also acts as a greenhouse for plants. They are inexpensive, easy to find at nurseries and can be reused for several years. I like to use 11 gauge wire from the hardware store to support the cover, but the plants can hold up the fabric, too. Be creative, using glass, plexiglass or plastic to create a warmer environment for some vegetables can mean harvesting year round if the winter is not too harsh.
Take this time to explore garden centers and nurseries looking for interesting plants for the landscape. Everything planted now will bring us joy when the season begins again in the spring.