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Garden full of tasks perfect for fall days

Master gardener Lynn Hoffman grabs a stalk of sunflowers in a garden at Belle Grove in Middletown while conducting some fall pruning. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Hoffman opens the pods of a blackberry lily in a garden at Belle Grove. (Buy photo)

Master gardener Lynn Hoffman gathers some fall gourds from a garden at Belle Grove in Middletown. Fall can be a busy time in the garden. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Even though the growing season is winding down, you can still enjoy many more months of beauty from your garden.

Many flowers still grow late into the fall, and some plants even provide color throughout the winter, keeping your garden alive while the rest of nature hibernates.

For avid gardeners, the first thing to consider is what you want the garden to look like next spring, says Lynn Hoffman, vice president of the Master Gardeners of the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Consider the plants you want to feature, what colors you would like for your palette, and how it will all look as some flowers fade and others bloom.

"Now's the best time to start planting your spring bulbs," Hoffman says. Most bulbs need to be planted 6-8 inches deep, but Hoffman recommends reading the bulb instructions to be sure. Daffodils, crocuses, tulips and any other flowers that peek their heads out of the snow in early spring are ones that winter easily in the garden, she says.

Other bulbs can be kept out of the ground and planted in the spring once the ground is soft enough. To keep them safe throughout the winter, dig them up when their flowers have stopped blooming and let them dry for three to four days. Then remove the plant material, store the bulbs in a bag with peat moss and hang them in a garage or storage shed safe from moisture until you plan to return them to the ground, she says.

Sometimes even bulbs that sprout later in the spring can winter in the ground she says, if you plant them deep enough or if they are kept close to a heat source, such as right next to your house. Storing them indoors, though, is her best recommendation.

What you plan to grow in the spring will determine what you have room for this fall, especially if your plants are not going to pop up again next year.

Many flowers you plant in September will last until the first frost, Hoffman says. Pansies, zinnias, marigolds and cockscomb add bright pinks, yellows, oranges and reds to a garden, providing an easy transition into winter.

"[Pansies are] a really good staple for your garden," she says.

Day lilies and black-eyed Susans do well in the fall, and add height to a garden, she says.

"Zebra grass -- it's white and green, that's a nice one," she says.

"There's a purple millet that grows ... and that's a great accent for your garden, especially in the fall."

To give the garden a feel of the harvest, plant kale, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower.

"The fall is the time to start planting garlic," she says.

"You can plant trees this time of year," Hoffman says. It's also a good time to re-seed your lawn.

Trees planted in late September or early October will have enough time to establish their roots before the frosts, she says. Trees balled in a burlap sack, though, can be planted at any time of year, she says, as long as the ground can be tilled. Make sure to water trees generously in the weeks following planting them. Watering them right before a heavy frost also keeps the cold from shocking the roots too severely, she says.

She also recommends adding 1 to 11⁄2 inches of mulch after planting.

If keeping the garden alive late into the season is too much work, adding in potted plants, pumpkins, gourds and ornamental corn or grass will give the illusion of a thriving garden without tilling the soil. Make sure to water potted plants often, since they will dry out very quickly, Hoffman says.

"Most people will put a lot of stuff in containers," she says. Though convenient, she warns that this practice can get pricey. Still, a container or two can add a lovely accent to a garden filled with a variety of other plants, or just provide a small container garden for the front of the house.

"A lot of people will use apples to augment their container gardens," she says.

To top off the fall garden, plant ivy, holly and other evergreens to maintain the garden through the winter as well. Bushes and vines should be planted in early September, she says.

Pine, spruce, magnolia and rhododendron are other options.

Burning bush features leaves that turn red in the fall and can last until late December, depending on the severity of winter weather, she says.

Even plants with interesting branches can dress up a garden after the flowers and leaves are gone, Hoffman says. Harry Lauder's walking stick, curly willow and plants with branches that form curly cues will provide accents to fall and winter gardens.

"You're looking for the form of the bush," she says.

Trees with colored bark can offer interest as well, such as red twig dogwood, she says.

"Most of the color you're going to be looking at are gold and crimson," she says, of a fall garden bursting with life. "It seems like those colors hold up the best from the frost and the weather."


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