Never an avid gardening column reader at the best of times, in the fall, I give them a wide berth. It’s not just because the advice is often the type of banal “duh” stuff that I would assume very few gardeners who take care of their own properties would need. (That’s something we rant about all the time.) It’s also because it reeks of finality and has no imagination. Here in four-season-land, we must face the fact that the garden is going dormant. Stuff is turning brown and dying back. Flowers are becoming fewer and fewer, except, thank god, the stalwart annuals and some common late season perennials. I know this. I don’t need a columnist to chirp: School is back in session, leaves are just beginning to turn! … before launching into a list of gardening to-dos like the following:
Plant bulbs now for a colorful spring! I won’t bother to say which paper had this; I am sure hundreds did. I feel sorry for the writers and editors who have to regurgitate this every single year. Here’s a typical opening graph:
About this time of year, you can’t turn around in many stores and garden centers without coming across displays and cardboard kiosks full of bagged spring-flowering bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus.
Well, if that’s true, then why do I need to also read about it? How about some advice on using hybrid tulips in containers, planting them in close groups for treatment as annuals, easy forcing methods, or other interesting things to do with bulbs that aren’t in the mainstream? And let’s hear more about species and unusual bulbs that, unlike hybrid tulips and daffs, return reliably and do not have bushels of hideous foliage to uglify your landscape for weeks after bloom is done. (Some of our garden bloggers like Carol/May Dreams and Mary Ann/Idaho Gardener have been talking about minor bulbs in their Examiner.com columns.)
Then there’s the tool-sharpening advice. Now, if someone has tools, they pretty much make a decision to take care of them, sharpen them, oil them up, and have them hanging in the garden shed all pretty—or they keep their tools like mine. That decision is not likely to be affected by anything one reads in the newspaper. There is a gene for this. My husband has it. I don’t.
Fall is the best time to plant! Okay, it’s arguable, but for zone fivers and lower, I have major problems with this advice, and I see a lot of it in the colder-zone press. I won’t plant perennials after the end of September; they’ll succumb to frost heave or they’ll simply disappear. (And not to quibble, but most of September is technically summer.) Either way, they’re dead. Your mileage may vary, and I am sure it does, but I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support my view. There may be some plants that are better able to survive such a short establishment period, but I would argue that in my area and similar areas those plants are few. It must help the nurseries, though; they get my dollar when I buy in the fall, and when I replace in the spring.
There is some advice I would like to see, and sometimes do in the better publications. Now is a great time to remind gardeners of long-blooming annuals that will keep their garden lush late into the fall, not just talk about mums and fall planting. It’s also a great time to look to the future; what are the common mistakes people make and how can they be avoided by judicious actions in the spring? I’m not big on planning; I do think gardens are the most fun when they just happen, but what can you build or have built now? This is actually one of the best times for hardscaping—you’re not as worried about disturbing the beds. I’d rather be doing that or making lists of my spring must-haves than planting mums (bleh) in my dying garden.
Or tidying up my tools. Though that does make me laugh.