Fall is the time to plant bulbs, take steps to protect outdoor plants

We have been enjoying absolutely great fall weather with beautiful, comfortable days and crisp autumn nights. Our hardy mums were all a little late to flower because of heat delay caused by unusually warm nights until just the last 2 or 3 weeks. Once the night time temperatures dropped the hardy mum buds opened to reveal a flood of autumn color.

It has been near perfect for sowing tall fescue and rye grass turf seed, planting ornamental kale, cabbage, and pansies. You can start planting spring flowering bulbs like tulips, crocus, dutch iris, hyacinths and my personal favorite the narcissus or daffodils. They will root in and grow underground this fall and winter, ready to pop out of the earth early next spring bursting with color to announce the new growing season.

We are in the final stretch run of the 2010 election season and this year’s growing season. Our first average freeze will usually occur in the first week of November although they have happened anywhere from about now until mid November. This year we are likely to freeze somewhere around election day, totally unrelated to politics.Since our first freeze is likely in the next week or two, you should get serious about deciding which plants to save and bring inside, prepare for the final harvest of vegetable crops that will freeze and decide how to protect tender perennials.

Mulch your flowerbeds with plants you hope to overwinter to reduce watering needs and act like a blanket or comforter to provide the plants extra insulation and protection. Nature does this naturally with the tree leaves dropped each fall from our deciduous trees. You can mulch with leaves, dried lawn clippings or many commercially available bark mulches, pine straw, pecan hulls or cottonseed hulls.

If you have a greenhouse or enclosed patio you probably move some or many of your decorative container gardens, patio pots and tropical plants inside for the winter. Some folks work a deal with their local greenhouse or nursery and pay rent to overwinter a few cherished plants. Others move plants inside by windows throughout their home or try to overwinter plants in their garage. I have seen many geraniums, sprengeri ferns, hibiscus, oleanders and other hearty plants overwintered in the low light of a cool, but not freezing, garage still survive. They will look pretty ragged when you cut them back next spring and reintroduce them to the great outdoors where they will usually respond with new growth. You can also take cuttings of your favorite plants and root new young plants in water or loose soil mix to “winter over” near windows or large sliding doors before moving them back outside next spring.

We often get an “Indian Summer” with several pleasant weeks of weather after our first freeze. There are many crops you can extend with just a little protection if we get a light freeze but not a hard freeze where temperatures go below 25º. Physically cover crops you hope to extend a little later in the season with an old sheet or frost blanket fabrics available from your local garden center on nights we are likely to get light frosts or freezes.


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