November 2nd, 2012
Did your perennials poop out this year and your vegetables vary in success? Is your dirt compacted and full of weeds? Does rainfall sluice off instead of sink gratefully into soft rich soil? Maybe it’s time for a garden redo!
Autumn is an excellent time to renovate. The earth is still warm, but the days are cooler and the rains are more reliable. So sharpen the spade, don the gloves, grease the elbows and get to work. It’s essential to loosen the soil and add organic material to impoverished soil. In the ornamental garden certain plants may need division or removal. This is your chance to make the garden into something pleasing and fruitful instead of an eyesore.
First decide the parameters of the project. If only a small portion requires assistance, you may only need to dump on some compost. If, however, large swaths are disreputable, it’s time to roll up those sleeves. Give some thought to the process and plan accordingly. What does the garden really require? If it’s become progressively shady, resolve to replace those deer-candy daylilies with shade-loving Ladies mantle and fragrant actea. If trees and shrubs are overgrown, consider severe pruning or replacement with more appropriate specimens. In the vegetable garden, it may be time to move the whole shooting-match into a sunnier area.
As you redesign the ornamental garden, hew to the principles of “largest in back, shortest in front”. Keep in mind your favorite colors, and employ them. This is where the garden books come in handy; as do the notes from Garden Tours you’ve taken and garden club plots you’ve visited. Now may be your opportunity to try out that fabulous oakleaf hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ or the great new dwarf buddleias.
But first things first. Be sure to lay out paths, whether stone, beaten earth, or other paving material. (I’m trying aged pine cones in one of my beds) To remain friable and fertile, garden soil should never be walked on. Whether you grow rutabagas or roses, it all starts with the soil, so protect it.
Here’s some other renovation tips:
Determine the outlines of the bed you’re working on and cut them in or install rigid edging material.
If a spring or summer bloomer, dig out plants that need dividing or removal. Slice the rootball up, pot, and save for the garden club sale. Alternatively, harden your heart and compost the culls.
Till the soil to at least a spade’s depth, pulling out major rocks and miscellaneous roots and buried treasure unearthed on the way down. Incorporate organic matter, such as compost. (This is an excellent use for the compost crop you’ve produced over the season) Water, or let Mother Nature do the job for you; this will help the soil to settle a bit.
There’s still time to plant, so place new material where you think it should go in the newly-dug bed and stand back to contemplate. If all good, dig ‘em in. If you aren’t using your own divisions or don’t have the wished-for plants on hand, label the location where the new plants will live and wait until early spring. Speaking of spring, this is also prime time for setting in hardy bulbs. The work is a piece of cake in the soft dirt of a freshly-turned bed.
Mulch newly planted material; this will prevent winter frost heave and will also beautify the bed. Check the plants over the winter and push any heaved ones back into the soil.
One last thing….think about ornamentation. Perhaps a tuteur upon which to grow morning glories, sweet peas or humulus; or a garden statue, or a figured pot; all these make attractive garden decorations. The holidays are coming, consider putting in a request to those who know you best.
Once the renovation project is complete, you’ll be able to gaze out over your new bed all winter long. Pat yourself on the back that you accomplished the task in the fall, to be enjoyed next spring when you’ll be up to your eyes in garden work.
Garden communicator Colleen Plimpton will deliver a free lecture, All–Season Color in the Garden, at Young’s Nurseries in Wilton, CT www.youngsnurseries.com Saturday, November 17th. Call 203-762-5511 for more info. Goodie bags will include coupons, a Holiday ornament and a chance at a Holiday Tree raffle.