Fall Is For Planting

planting-bulbs.jpgI like planting in the fall.  The weather is cooler, and the rain more reliable.  The work of it seems easier. Some plants are not so happy with a fall planting.  I like to delay planting beech, birch, magnolia and dogwoods until the spring.   Other species readily transplant in the fall, when they are dormant.  Dormant plants suffer the trauma of transplant more readily when they are sleeping . I am uneasy about planting perennials much past the end of September, for fear they will not have enough time to root before the frost heaves them every which way- including out of the ground.  However, it is never too late to plant spring flowering bulbs.  Should you be able to get your shovel in the ground in February, the bulbs you bought in October will most likely be fine-provided you stored them in a cool spot.

spring-flowering-bulbs.jpgThis is our bulb planting week.  We are tackling this project for clients later than usual-it has been a very busy fall.  Most of our projects involve large spaces planted with tulips for spring.  But we do have those people for whom we add a little of this and a little of that every year.  No matter the scale of your garden, and the spaces you have available for spring flowering bulbs, taking the time to plant them is well worth the effort.  When the winter breaks here in March, and the crocus come into bloom-that is a day I treasure.  Both the Farmer’s Almanac and the National Weather Service is predicting a very cold and very snowy winter here.  There is everything good about defending your gardening self with some spring flowering bulbs.

spring-flowering bulbs.jpgThe spring flowering bulbs include tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and a whole host of small flowering bulbs.  Don’t forget the alliums, which will bloom in June.  All of the nurseries local to me have bulbs available.  It seems like preaching to the choir to be encouraging gardeners to plant spring bulbs, but I have my reasons.  Planting bulbs is just about the least satisfying planting done in the garden all year.  When it is cold, windy, and wet, you are out there burying brown blobs in the dirt.  When you are finished planting, you have nothing to show for all the work. Even more discouraging is the fact that the show is months away.  I wouldn’t say that bulb planting is particularly pleasant for gardeners-it takes effort in conditions that are usually less than ideal.  But the rewards in the spring-enormously satisfying.

planting-for-spring.jpgAs difficult as it may be to generate excitement for a job with no immediate rewards, the pleasure to come is worth the wait. Each one of those brown orbs is loaded with the promise of the gardening season to come.

spring-flowering-bulbs-in-pots.jpgI plant a lot of bulbs in pots.  I find this easier than trying to imagine where my perennial garden might need tulips, or where I planted daffodils last year.  I do not force the bulbs I plant in containers.  I bury them under a huge pile of leaves, or store them in the garage, and bring them out early in March.  I want them to bloom at the same time that they are blooming in the garden.  Pots of spring flowering bulbs can be placed on a front porch, or by the back door, or dropped into a container.  I like that I can move them around.

white-hyacinths.jpgThis may seem counter intuitive, but bulbs in pots will rot if they freeze solid through and through.  The temperature of the soil is always warmer than the air temperature-but bulbs in pots do not have the luxury of the protection of the ambient warmth of the ground.  There are certain places in our shop garage that are good for storing planted pots of bulbs.

grape-hyacinths.jpgSpring flowering bulbs are programmed from the start to come up, throw leaves, and bloom.  Very little gets in the way of the way of that.  I have had good luck repotting spring bulbs already in bloom into different containers, providing I handle them carefully.  We did these grape hyacinths in little pots with the bulbs exposed for an event.

daffodils.jpgMiniature daffodils handle life in a pot a liottle better that the large flowered varieties.  If I do pot up big growing daffodils,  I keep the soil level well below the rim of the pot.  That rim helps to keep the flowers and leaves standing upright.  If I do bring potted flowering bulbs indoors, I try to find a relatively cool spot for them.  An ideal spring for bulbs in the ground depends on cool weather during the day, and chilly weather at night.  Once the weather gets warm, spring bulbs will fade.

spring-flowering-bulbs.jpgThe bulbs it would take to make a handsome spring garden could fit in a modestly sized box. I would seize one of the few remaining warm afternoons we will have, in pursuit of a little spring color.

box-of-bulbs.jpgA little box of spring flowering bulbs makes a big statement about spring.

tulips-blooming.jpgtulips in the spring – indescribably delicious.


A Case For Planting Containers For Fall



Our summer season has not been so friendly to those of us who garden in containers.  All of the tropical plants in the containers despised the cold, and the relentless rain.  Why do I even plant tropical plants in my containers?  Annual plants bloom, set seed, and die, over the course of one season.  If I remove the dead flower from an annual plant, I am thwarting its natural instinct to reproduce itself via the act of setting seed. This annual plant will bloom again, hoping to set seed, the next time.  This means there are flowers coming on all season long.  Some hybrid annual plants are sterile-they do not set seed.  They will continue to bloom over the warm months in spite of this.


Warm months is the operative phrase here.  Many of our common annual plants are native to climates much warmer than the midwest.  They dislike being planted in cold soil in our spring, and they faint dead away with the first frost.  Why do I put up with this?  I like that group of annual flowers that grow larger and bloom with abandon all summer long.  Those plants with oversized tropical leaves-as in alocasias, calocasias, cannas, tree ferns and the like-are equally as pleasing.  They represent lush in a way that few plants hardy in my zone can match.  Container plantings help make my landscape feel like summer.


I admire those gardeners that plant hostas in pots-bravo.  However, I like my hostas best, in ground. I have tried lots of perennial and shrubby plants in containers-by this I mean lavender, hydrangeas, hyssop, buddleia, gloriosa daisies, boxwood-I could go on, but won’t.  The only perennial plant I really value in containers is strawberries.  The leaves are large and beautifully serrated.  The unripe fruit is a beautiful color.  The ripe fruit is irresistible.  Some gardeners are attracted to the idea that their containers full of hostas could be brought out of the garage in the spring, and put in place-as usual.  Other gardeners are determined to keep boxwood, boxwood topiaries, junipers and their topiary variants alive in containers, season after season, year after year.  One of the things I value the most about the planting seasonal containers is how a fresh start energetically engages the imagination.  Last year’s containers-more about history than the moment.  I am not enchanted by my containers being over and done with.  Done-I dread both the adjective, and the noun.  So does nature, by the way.


The prospect of my containers being filled with the same plants year after year would bore me beyond all belief. I would not care if the boxwood sphere put on another six inches in height and girth.  I value the change up pitch better than a fast ball down the middle.  My landscape has taken many years to bring to a level that pleases me.  Any major change would be a major upheaval.  Not that I adverse to some upheaval.  A landscape is a big fluid situation that evolves over a period of years.  There is no fast forward.  No matter how loud you are able to snap your fingers, the landscape will take years to really respond.  But my summer containers reward my efforts relatively quickly.


The second reason I so value tropical plants in my containers?  I can plant something different next year, and the year after that.  I can ditch my failures, and move on.  I can entertain a color scheme on a whim.  A cold and rainy season will not stalk me beyond the frost.  Next year will be different.


As for planting fall pots-let’s agree that this summer was not the best for container plantings.  I have appreciated the summer heat we have gotten in September-all of my containers look much better than they did a month ago.  Most of my containers have dark empty spots.  Those holes are from the begonias that rotted.  What coleus didn’t give up has spots-the tell tale sign of cold.


In late September, there are several options for a container that has unnattractive gaps.  Those tropical plants that have faded away can be replaced with cold hardy plants-as in parsley, 4″ cabbage and kale, pansies, bok choy, Napa lettuce, ivy of every description, chrysanthemums, asters-there are no end of fall hardy and fall blooming plants that could fill your gaps.


Or you could replant you containers for fall. I have lots of containers.  I will stand pat with most of them until the frost takes them down.  But the pots I drive up to every day, I replant them for fall.  I have lots of choices for material.  Broom corn, fresh and preserved eucalyptus, twigs, preserved leptospermum, asters, gourds, dried grasses, cabbage, kale, lettuce, pansies, rosemary, thistles, pumpkins, bittersweet, dried hydrangeas from my yard, twigs from the field, chrysanthemums-you get my drift.  It is entirely possible that my fall containers will be the best of the year.  I have no regrets about the annuals going down.  I have the fall season coming on.


All my driveway pots need is for me to assemble a group of fall materials, and soldier on.  Soldiering on?  This means plant.  Stick.  Arrange.

fall-planting.jpgEnjoy the season.



September Favorites


I think its fall.  I am begrudingly letting myself notice the signs of the change of the season.  My transition from summer to fall is an bumpy one; who wants to let go?   I invest an inordinate amount of energy, hanging on.  I do not fault myself too seriously for this.  I just give this phase a wide berth.  Sooner or later I do let go, tune in, and celebrate what is happening now in the garden.

The ornamental grasses beautifully representing their seed heads and maturing foliage-breathtaking. I regularly plan panic grass; I love spectina pectinata in wet spots.  Micanthus gracillimus is one pretty perfect plant.  Impossibly thin blades contrast so beautifully with the mass that a good sized colony will make. Grasses need enough space so they can wave around in the breeze. Grass dancing is a very good look.    

Salvias shine in the fall.  Salvia artemis-noted for its giant felted leaves may not be so winter hardy, nor does it suffer any overwatering.  But it shines come September in a container.  I almost never have any luck with it in the ground.  Any of the big growing salvias come in to their own in September; Indigo Spires and Purple Majesty are just two of hundreds of cultivars.  Though it might be tough to warm up to a late flowering salvia in May-think ahead to your fall.

All of my mandevilleas are beautiful right now.  They take lots of time, and lots of heat to come on.  They have not been one bit fazed by own cold nights.  Their large single flowers are striking, and newer varieties have glossy and disease resistant foliage. This plant is the best it has been all summer; I am toying with taking it in for the winter.

Rob went to an antique show in Ann Arbor this past weekend; he came home with gourds.  Most of them are green and white. The white fingered gourds are called “White Crown of Thorns”.  The winged beauties-“Autumn Wings”.  Rampant cross pollination produces unique forms and colors.  They make great ornament on a garden table or bench.    

Rob tells me this long chubby orange and green variety is called “Lunch Lady”.  These warty fruits are a different kind of beautiful.  Every grower of gourds has a distinctly different crop.  No wonder there was a gourd festival in Imlay City this past weekend; the first annual Michigan festival of Gourds was sponsored by the Michigourders Gourd Guild.   

 Years ago a house manager of a client expressed surprise that I had brought hardy mums to plant.  He explained that given all the signs for hardy mums he had seen everywhere, he assumed it was a person running for office.  My telling of this event doesn’t begin to express how funny this was.  Chrysanthemums are a staple fall plant-you can find them everywhere.  I like them best as big green balls.  Mum balls.  They are so gorgeous at this stage.

Kalanchoe thyrisflora “Flapjack” has big paddle shaped leaves, and grows to 2′ tall.  It is monocarpic, meaning it dies after it flowers.  However they are willing in the offset production department.  I like them for fall pots; the edges of the leaves will turn burgundy red with some cold, and they are fine down to 25-30 degrees. I usually bring them in once the night temps approach the mid thirties. 

This little gourd is all the better for its stem. What garden table would not look all the better for a little gourd ornament ? 

I may grumble about the change of seasons, but the fact is our gardening year is a play in four acts.  We get a change of scene and costume.  We get a new twist on an old plot.