Fall garden

Mums lead the annuals' fall parade

Special to the Union Leader
September 16. 2013 6:28PM
Ornamental peppers are excellent fall annuals for color and visual interest. (COURTESY)

Just because there's a nip in the air and the sweaters are coming out of storage doesn't mean gardens need to be put to bed for the winter.

There is still plenty of planting time left and fall has much to offer by way of beautiful color and pleasant garden surprises.When it comes to color, perennials like roses and hydrangea are still in bloom and still good for planting, said Lisa Mills, owner of Nicole's Greenhouse and Florist in Pembroke. For gardeners looking for something a little smaller, Brown-Eyed Susans are still in color.

And then there are mums.For a burst of fall color, mums are the way to go because they love the cool nights of autumn."They're incredible," Mills said. "They really need the cooler nights to finally start to open and look beautiful."

Mums come in vibrant shades of light purple and yellow, and even more subtle tones like deep maroon and red. Also, some mums will come back again the following year.

"Mums have been (hybridized) considerably," Mills said. "So they require more of a micro-climate to come back each year. But I've got some customers who are successful with them coming back as a perennial and some who are not."

Further, it's a great time of year to try a little something different such as an ornamental cabbage or kale or even an ornamental pepper, said Jeffrey Meulenbroek, owner of Studley Flower Gardens in Rochester.

"These plants are all good until the frost," Meulenbroek said. "Late season color, the peppers are great. Very frost tolerant, you can't beat the cabbage and kale.… And some perennials like coral bells will provide some color, so we use those in some color combinations."

And while the frost can wreak havoc on blooms, it's the wind you have to worry about. "What you really need to protect your plants against is the northwest wind. Plants have sap running through them, just as we have blood running through us. And if we're out in the wind, our skin gets dried out, our lips get dried out. A plant will also get dried out. And when it loses that sap, it kills the plant or kills the shrub.

"So gardeners planting in an area away from a wind barrier, like a house for example, need to do something to protect the plant from the wind. On the frosty nights, Mills said cover the tops of flowers and bushes with some burlap or a wooden A-frame. Mulch will also help for water retention in the soil.And when it comes to water, Mills said, "You can't ever really rely on Mother Nature."

Meaning, keep the water coming.

"You want to be soaking the soils around your plant," she said. "You don't want to water from above because you want the water to get to the roots, because it's the roots that are going to bring the water up to the plant."

Planning for spring

For those already looking forward to spring now is the time to plant bulbs for those early Spring flowers like crocus, daffodils and forsythia. Shady-spot flowers like azaleas and rhododendrons can also be planted now.

Fall is really an excellent time to plant, Meulenbroek said, because the warm days and cool nights are excellent at helping plants put on root growth, which helps gets plants established.

Further, putting on an extra layer of mulch over new plantings might be a good idea late in the season, can help make sure the plant's protected from freezing and thawing. But Meulenbroek said remember to remove that extra layer in the spring.

"The weather can be crazy," Meulenbroek said of the weather this time of year. "But typically we get ample rain, so the soil tends to have enough moisture in it, so the plants aren't going through a lot of water stress. We still have gorgeous, warm days, followed by cool nights. So there's still a lot of growing time. It doesn't feel like it to you and me, because you feel the nip in the air, but the plants do excellent with the fall weather."

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