The weather has finally turned more “fall-like” in Vermont and in the nick of time. We’ve been cutting back flower gardens, planting bulbs and garlic and generally getting the yard ready for winter. It’s a much more enjoyable experience working in the garden in 50F temperatures than 80Fs.
One task we’re finishing up in our climate is bulb planting. If you live in zones warmer than 5, you can be planting into November. We plant bulbs everywhere, in spite of our constant deer pressure. I talk about deer resistant bulbs for your yard here.
The perennial garden is getting cut back, but in stages. We like to leave some color for as long as possible. One perennial still blooming that I love is monkshood. I talk about it here. In the vegetable garden, it’s traditional to dig up and cut back spent plants, but in this newsletter I talk about a technique of composting in place. It’s less work and better for your garden soil. Find out what I mean.
Finally, an ode to weeding. Actually it’s more of an encouragement for me, as well as for you, to do one final weeding this fall. You’ll be thanking yourself come next spring.
Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.
We all can’t wait for the spring flowering tulips, daffodils, crocus and other bulbs to burst forth in spring. It’s a signal of the start of the gardening season for many gardeners. It’s also the start of animal pest season. Deer love to eat many spring flowering bulbs. They’ll munch on the foliage when it first comes up and the flowers as they form. In one night I remember loosing a whole bed of tulips to marauding deer.
So, as you’re planting bulbs now for spring, think about if deer are an issue in your yard. If so, plant smart. Select bulbs and flowers deer shy away from. Certainly daffodils are well known deer proof bulbs. But what about some other less well known bulbs? Snow drops are one the first bulbs to bloom in spring and come in white and pink colored fragrant flowers. Camassia features blue spikey flowers loosely arranged on a flower stalk. Winter aconite are low growing, buttercup yellow bulbs that brighten any spring garden. Any alliums seem to be avoided by deer. Fritillaria also isn’t a favorite of deer or rodents in the soil.
Use your deer proof bulbs to help create disinterest on the part of deer in the rest of your bulb garden. Plant these bulbs along the woodland’s edge or in a garden you know deer frequent. Perhaps after they try a nibble of these less attractive bulbs and walk away they will avoid the other more tasty tulips. Of course, these spring flowering bulbs need what all bulbs like. Full sun in spring with well-drained soil.
Watch my video on planting spring flowering bulbs here.
I first really appreciated monkshood years ago when Wendy and I were visiting our niece at her school in coastal Maine. It was mid October and in their garden was this tall perennial flower blooming with brilliant dark purple flowers. It was growing happily late in fall and made me think we should have one of these.
Monkshood or Aconitum is a late blooming, hardy perennial that grows up to 5 feet tall. It thrives in part shade. In the school garden we saw in Maine, it was near some trees, being shaded from the afternoon sun. Monkshood flowers come in traditional purple, white and blue depending on the variety. The common name comes from the flower resembling the hood monk’s wore in the Middle Ages.
Monkshood is a tough plant that has survived our clay soil and is flowering now at home. You have to be careful where you plant monkshood. It doesn’t like being moved so think twice about it’s final location before planting.
Also, all parts of monkshood are poisonous. So if you have a curious child or pet, you might skip monkshood for now and think of planting it at a later time in your life. It’s also called wolfsbane because it’s so poisonous it was once used to kill wolves.
But for everyone else, plant and enjoy the fall show of monkshood, before the frost brings it all to an end for the season.
During fall cleanup I often wonder why am I pulling out all these veggies and flowering plants to compost them. Next year I’ll have to just move the compost back into the garden. A quicker way to compost is to compost in place. Here’s how it works.
For disease and insect free vegetables, herbs and annual flowers, instead of digging out plants, cut them to the soil level like you would perennial flowers. Chop them up into smaller pieces with your pruners or hedge trimmer. Then just leave them in the garden bed. They will slowly decompose over winter feeding the soil.
By not digging up the root system of these otherwise healthy plants you aren’t disturbing the soil and removing some good compost from the garden. Also, as the roots break down in winter they open up air and water channels in the soil making for easier growth for next year’s plants.
Of course, if your garden is plagued with certain insects or diseases, don’t just leave those plants in the garden. Remove the plants, and hopefully the disease and insects with them. Leaving infested plant debris in the garden could mean more problems next spring, especially if you have a small garden where you can’t rotate crops easily.
But for all other plants, leave them. It’s less work for you and better for the soil in the long run.
In Our Garden: The Final Weeding
It would be great if I could just let the frost kill all the remaining plants, clean them up and walk way for winter. But I know better. Underneath many perennial flowers are perennial weeds or self sown flower babies that will quickly take over next spring.
So, much to our chagrin, we’re out in the garden doing a final weeding. We try to dig out the perennial dandelions, burdock, and quack grass first. We wait until after a rain so we can more easily weed our clay soil and then go at it with Cobra hoes and cultivators. After a sweaty time of digging, then we go through and cultivate out self sown perennials, such as echinacea and rudbeckia, that are trying to take over. We could wait until spring, but we’re working now, so why not. Finally, we add some compost and maybe mulch to protect the soil and then call it a day in that garden.
While weeding isn’t my favorite task, gardening seems much more manageable in spring if we take the time in fall to weed. So, bite the bullet, listen to some good tunes in your ear buds and start weeding.