At this time your garden is probably expressing the melancholy state of the growing season’s end, when fruit is ripening, perennials go dormant, and the rich abundance of summer starts to fade. Fortunately there are still plenty of faithful fall favorites to brighten up the day, such as mums and stone crops, and this blue ground cover beauty. In order to keep a bright outlook on gardening, there will be much work to be done at the beginning of fall. Here’s the list:
– clean, deadhead, weed (again!). Get rid of all the spent plants and anything that already turned brown.
– don’t forget to water, the garden is tired already, you don’t want it wasting
– gather seeds and fruit, there will be plenty of them
– don’t feed! the garden needs to ease its way into the winter dormancy
– plant cheerful fall annuals to keep the garden bright
– some of your favorite roses will start to bloom again, make sure they are healthy (we can make an exception about feeding roses, they might not bloom again otherwise). Roses are such wonderful plants that they will bloom through the first frost, long after other perennials have already gone dormant.
– if you don’t already have them, plan on getting some reliable late blooming perennials.
This wonderful little tree is literally weighed down with fruit. Speaking of garden interest for the cold months, these pretty berries will attract many birds through the fall and will create beautiful contrast when set against snow and ice.
Crab apple trees are some of the most popular decorative trees, and for good reasons: in spring they put up a stunning display of rose-white flowers with a wonderfully delicate fragrance that lingers on the wind and follows you around, not strong enough to indicate its source, not faint enough to make it possible to ignore.
In the fall, the branches are weighed down by these pretty, abundant and very much edible berries. If the birds leave some, please see crab apple jelly recipe below.
In winter the remaining berries will look splendid against the white background of snow.
If you have an apple tree that is not self-pollinating, a crab apple that blooms at the same time somewhere in its proximity will solve the problem for you.
So here goes the Crab apple Jelly recipe:
3-4 pounds of crab apples
3 cups of sugar
Crab apple jelly has a beautiful bright red color that makes it excellent for adding color to creams, pastries and other deserts.
These seedpods are not ripe yet, but I wanted to share this diaphanous image of exactly how amazing the beauty of nature is. Ah, the details! Anyway, the point is that these flowers were grown from seed kept from year to year and they are thriving. Who said only flowers were supposed to be beautiful?
On a practical note, when these pods turn dark brown and bone dry, gently cut the stems with scissors and place them in a bag. The little dry pods are like pepper shakers and all the seeds will scatter on the ground if you shake them too much. Snapdragon seeds look exactly like poppy seeds; to get them out of the pods shake and tap the stems on a white piece of paper and pass them through a tea strainer to get all the residue out.
These are fragrant Stock seed pods. I started the plants from seeds collected last year, and they have done fairly well this year.
If you start them indoors in a little greenhouse box (the type with transparent plastic cover – I strongly recommend it, it accelerates the growth of plants in a manner that is nothing short of miraculous) you should have big and strong seedlings to plant in your garden after the last frost.
The flowers came true from seed, exactly like their parent plants, including the color.
Keep seeds in paper bags, in a dry, cool place.
This is what the flowers look like:
These colorful Four O’Clocks (second year plants, produced from last year’s seeds) are thriving in my garden and they are very prolific in generating seeds. The seeds themselves are quite intriguing, like dark and shiny peppercorns ready to fall out of their green casing at the slightest touch.
Enjoying the flowers is quite a different matter, though. I had to watch the plants for days in order to get the picture above. They seem to open at random times of day, if they feel like it, and they stay open for a few minutes. I don’t understand how they manage to produce seed, but they do.
Four O’Clocks require little care and will quickly cover a patch of dirt if they have enough sunlight (4 to 6 hours a day). The blooms are not fragrant; they sport every hue in the fuchsia, pink, magenta and white range, or combination thereof, and create a bright and cheerful display when open.
If you like the blooms, make sure you take photos: they are not the kind of plants you can proudly present to your fellow gardeners during a stroll through the garden.
I thought I would show them off, so I took my own advice and photographed them.
Refine the task of collecting seeds, especially if you are planning on giving them away to friends and family or participating in seed exchange programs. Making packaging an integral part of seed collection encourages you to be more organized and makes it easier to find what you need in spring.
This is a nice task to give kids, since they are excited about creating little projects. Here are a few photos of packets that my daughter made for seeds harvested this year. The seeds are organized by annuals, biennials and perennials and the packets are easy to open to add some more seeds as they become available.
Make sure to label the packets with the family, species and color of the plant, whether it is annual or perennial, and what color it is, as well as the date the seeds were harvested. This may seem like overkill to some, but everyone who harvested seed heads from purple and pink bee balms, for instance, knows that there is no way to tell the color after the petals fell off. So if you are excited about planting white zinnias, you will not get the “mixed color border of the wrong height” next year.
Besides the advantage of knowing what seeds you have and where they are, the packets make for a nice conversation piece when you give them away, and the kids can turn the seed box into a mini science project to show off at school.
As you get more packets and more plant seeds the information on the labels can be expanded to include the botanical names (which give great insight into what plants are from the same family and therefore have similar needs and qualities), spacing and care requirements, whether the plants like the sun or the shade, and how they performed in your garden the previous years.
Packets with detailed information are especially useful if you like crossing different cultivars to get new plant varieties.
African Violets are extremely easy to propagate from leaf cuttings. I don’t know how I can fill a whole post with details of the process, but all there is to it is cut a leaf and stick it in the ground: it will take care of itself from here.
Of course, it helps if you dip the stem in rooting hormone and keep the dirt moist. For a couple of weeks it looks like it is not doing anything, and then the miracle happens.
Did you know that lupines and beans are first cousins? If you didn’t, the seed pods might give you an inkling. As a part of the Fabaceae family, the lupines grow their offspring in the familiar seed pods, that are to beans what mastodons are to elephants. Spiky, hairy and archaic, the lupine beans look sort of familiar. As all members of the bean family, they can process the nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots as ammonia, thus improving the soil for the surrounding plants. They are also perennials, so you can watch them grow and spread year after year. Lupines are tall, imposing plants that do well against a wall or in the center of the border. They are sun loving plants, so make sure to plant them in a spot that gets plenty of sunshine.
How unearthly does that look! The “Giant Allium” does not only produce the well known beautiful purple globes, but after the flowers fade, it turns into this unbelievable spaceship seed. Don’t get overexcited though, the allium is done blooming mid June, and the seedpods don’t last long enough to provide winter interest. Another downer is that the flowers are either sterile or new plants are not coming true from seed.
That being said, though, it is a must in the perennial garden. The giant alliums come out faithfully year after year and if the conditions are good (at least part-sun and plenty of water), they will spread. You can dig them out and divide them in the fall to get more of these beautiful plats in your garden. They are completely care free, once you planted them and gave them a little bit of food, they will not need anything else. They are not disease prone and will not crowd your other plants. After the seeds are ripened, the plant dies back and will come back next spring.
This perennial grows up to 2 feet in height and about a foot wide and will provide food for the birds, bees and butterflies. Alliums are not scented, but the huge flower balls up to 8 inches in diameter are spectacular. Another plus is that squirrels don’t seem to have an appetite for the bulbs, so if you plant them in the fall, you’ll see them the following spring.
If you decide to try your luck and propagate the plant from seed, just let the seeds dry on the plant and store them in a brown paper bag in a place where they will not be susceptible to mold.
Come spring, plant in peat moss under a plastic or glass cover to contain the moisture. Good luck. If nothing else, you’ll satisfy your curiosity with respect to what can come out of those seeds. If you really, really want more of these beautiful plants, divide the bulbs.
Any healthy, seed free plant material can go in the compost pile. You can also include grass clippings, if you don’t treat your lawn with herbicides. Adding vegetable scraps and eggshells will speed up the process of turning compost into fertile garden soil material, and adding well rotted manure will too. Layering plant material with a matter rich in nitrogen in 6″ layers will provide the optimal compost pile.
Unfortunately, the entire process doesn’t smell or look good, so you might consider a closed system with a wheel so that you can turn the compost without stirring up the smell. These systems are designed to speed up the process too, so you get compost sooner. Also, be courteous to your neighbors and place the system in a remote enough location where it won’t bother anybody.