Although I may have renounced some of the traditional flowers of fall—sorry, mum fans—in other ways I am embracing late season gardening more than ever before. And, no, it’s not just the 300-plus bulbs.
Rather than go gently into the balmy September night, I have big plans. Out go the final vestiges of the rose bed, to be planted in the alley where they can fend for themselves. In come a group of late-blooming, tall perennials. There is a new hydrangea to be planted and an old one to be moved. There may be another and even more comprehensive bed replacement in the works. And of course we have the bulbs.
I am sure many of you have known the joys of late summer and early fall gardening for many years, but for me, it has always been as if a switch gets turned off after Labor Day. There are reasons for this. At the end of a long, hot summer, it’s relaxing to just let the garden go, to stop watering the containers (which in my case get filled with bulbs), and simply watch the gradual decline of the perennials with a casual and detached interest. But it’s a very artificial timetable, based on the return to work and the start of a busy cultural season, with art openings, benefits, plays, and many other events to attend—well, if anyone was taken aback by Buffalo partying in summer, they should see us in the fall!
In reality, though, warm weather continues here through September and often well into October. There is absolutely no reason not to keep gardening, no reason, that is, except exhaustion. And I was heartened by some words from local garden writer and horticulturalist Sally Cunningham, who wrote in last Friday’s Buffalo News:
The perennials we used to buy were especially awful in August — pot-bound, leggy and well past flowering. They were cheap, but survival was a long shot. Who knew how many times the plants had dried out, been stressed and the real condition of those poor roots?
Now we can take home quart- or gallon- sized pots with lots of roots that haven’t even begun to touch the sides of the pots.
Also, many garden centers now maintain a full stock of plants through summer. Some were cut back once or twice, some potted up the next size pot. Others were purchased from top-quality wholesalers who grew them for summer purchase and optimum performance once they’re in the ground.
In spite of all assurances to the contrary, I have always been suspicious of fall planting of perennials, having experienced some frost heave, especially with heucheras. I still believe our zone is somewhat marginal for late season planting. This year will be my first experiment—we’ll see how it all survives. But at a certain point I will have to stop. When do you?