By Phyllis Galowitz
Fall. The meadow that I see from my office window, a mass of goldenrod and delicate lavender asters, is a spectacular sight. The trees in the background are just beginning to change color. Here and there, a single tree, rushing the season, is already dressed for fall in bright scarlet or brilliant yellow. By the time you are reading this column, they’ll all have replaced their summer greens with beautiful fall wardrobes. Everyday the garden changes. Some of the late summer perennials are reluctant to say good-bye and the white blooms of phlox, which are usually gone by now, are peeking between the lush, red-violet dahlias. Autumn joy toys with the color of the flower every day, starting with the palest of green, to cream, to a delicate pink, which deepens, almost as you watch it, to a deeper and darker shade, until it is a rich mahogany, that it seems satisfied to display for the whole of winter.
Tomatoes are ripening, in spite of the cool temperatures, and I don’t think I’ll have too many green ones. Zucchini was disappointing. The rest of the vegetables in my garden are finished for the season, just in time for the bountiful display at the farm stands, where I can’t resist buying more than we can ever use. Everything is fresh and beautiful. As crops are finished, I can dig and manure the empty beds for next spring.
It’s time to lift perennials for division (and sharing with friends), and replenish the soil; divide iris and daylilies, plant evergreens, trees and bushes. It’s time to plant bulbs, setting them relatively deep in our cold climate, both for insulation and to allow for layering shallow-rooted plants above them. Water them occasionally to keep the bulbs moist until winter sets in.
Once perennials have finished flowering in fall, cut them down to about 6 inches of stem to trap insulating snow and then cut this back in the spring. Some plants, such as coneflower, which have seeds to feed the birds, should not be cut until spring.
Transplant herbs into small pots to bring inside for your indoor garden, or harvest and freeze or dry them for winter use.
When the foliage on dahlias has blackened from the first frost, trim back the stems to about 6 inches. Lift and clean the clumps of soil, trim off any fine roots, and treat the clumps with fungicide. Label and place them upside-down for a few weeks in a frost-free place to dry out. Pack them in boxes in vermiculate, perlite, peat, or a similar medium. Store in a cool, frost-proof place.
It’s a busy time in the garden and I never seem to complete all the projects that I’d planned to do before, suddenly, winter snows are falling and another season has gone. Some things will have to wait until spring. ~