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Growin’ Green

Hardy Perennials Can Be Planted Now

By Brent Gray

Hardy perennials like astilbe, hosta, rudbeckia, foxglove and others can be planted now. Dormant perennials roots such as daylily, peony, and others can be dug, separated and transplanted during the dormant season. Perennial and annual flowerbeds could probably use a topdressing of compost or other organic matter now.  Gently work this into the soil working around the crowns of your perennials.
When transplanting per-ennials be sure and space them with plenty of room to spread next growing season. These plants will grow rapidly and fill in quickly next spring—so, allow room.  Applying mulch after the ground cools is a good way to prevent winter weeds and makes the garden look tidy.  Be sure not to cover the crowns of your dormant perennials or get the mulch too close to the trunks of your trees and shrubs.

 By the time you read this, you probably have already purchased the spring flowering bulbs—daffodils, crocus, tulips and others that are planted in the fall. I don’t do well in my garden with anything other than daffodils, because I am plagued with little bulb-eating varmints.  Crocus, hyacinths, and tulips that I have planted in the past just wind up in the gut of a squirrel, vole or other nasty little critter. I vow every fall that I am going to try growing these tasty bulbs in a big pot or tub that I can easily cover with wire mesh to keep out the thieving varmints. This fall I’m going to do it. I have a book that shows eye-popping pots brimming with tulips, crocus, hyacinths and other fancy spring flowering bulbs. The author suggests you use large pots (16 to 18” in diameter) and plant the different bulbs at varying depths for a succession of bloom. For example, plant yellow crocus very shallowly (2” deep) around the outer rim of the pot. Then plant the center of the pot in purple crocus, but plant them deeply (4-6”). If the pot was wide enough you could even plant in the center of the purple crocus some white daffodils, such as “Mount Hood.”  Supposedly the result of this would be a succession of bloom from the outer edge of the pot to the center. Doesn’t that sound pretty and just think, if it works you can move the pot around to where ever you need a cheerful, splash of early color next spring—and, if it doesn’t work you can just as easily hide the booger behind the garden shed.

During the winter months, places in our gardens and landscapes can look rather bare.  It is really simple to fix this without digging a hole and planting something.  Use containers or groups of containers to add interest and create winter focal points in the garden. First, go in the house and look out the windows. Where does your eye fall? If it’s on the garbage cans, woodpile, or dog house, you need some serious landscape design help. Hide or move that stuff to somewhere else out of view. Now, create vignettes (I’m not going to tell you what that means, just like my teacher told me–look it up in the dictionary!). You don’t even have to use living plant material in the pots. One of the prettiest vignettes I created was a grouping of various sized pots stuffed with white pine boughs, berry-laden branches of possum haw, clusters of sumac berries, persimmon branches, all surrounded by an assortment of gourds and pumpkins and  watched over by a homemade scarecrow  This stuff can stay pretty for months. Small evergreen shrubs also look good in pots.

Fruit and Nuts
If you can find them in the nurseries, fall and early winter is a good time to plant fruit trees and bush or semi-bush fruit like blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Plant Chinese chestnut, pecan, walnut, and other nut trees.  Always plant two or three Chinese chestnuts so they can cross-pollinate. Otherwise, you will not have a good nut harvest. Plant strawberries as early in November as possible. They need as much time as possible to develop good roots before heavy hard freezes arrive. Grape vines can also be planted now. If you can’t find what you need this time of year in the nurseries, you can wait until January or February when these plants typically appear on the market.

Trees and Shrubs
Fall is for planting trees and shrubs! How many times have you heard that, well, it is true. Plant evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs during fall and they have all winter to establish a good root system—the better to withstand the neglect and abuse that may come their way during their first growing season. I know you as a conscientious gardener would never mistreat your plants, but there are those out there who might forget to water, fertilize, or otherwise provide proper care during the crucial first year of these new plants. The better the root system, the better the plant can withstand brief periods of stress. You can look at fall planting as a good way to protect your investment in time and money.

Vegetables and Herbs
If you didn’t grow a crop of fall cool season vegetables, there is not much going on in your vegetable patch right now.  If you haven’t removed all the old warm season plants from the garden yet, you need to do so to remove the pests that could over winter and attac  your garden next spring. Cleaning up also gives you the opportunity to amend the soil with compost, fall leaves or other organic matter. Our town composts all the bagged leaves and anyone can come and get a pickup truck load of this compost any time—you have to load it, but it’s free for the taking. If your city or town has this service, my advice is to find you some restless, unemployed and broke teenagers, entice them with a little money and get them to load you up with some of this black gold. Their parents and your soil will thank you.  All boy or all girl crews work best—it doesn’t pay to mix them up if you expect any work out of them.

Lelia Scott Kelly, Ph.D., writes North Mississippi Gardening Tips monthly and is the state consumer horticulture specialist for Mississippi State University Extension Service. Her office is at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona.

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