Fall is a beautiful time of year. The intense heat of summer is past and, this year, we've received a reasonable amount of rain. All is looking good and green in our gardens. But, as happens every year, it is time now to clean up the yard before the cold weather sets in.
Aren't these cool mornings delightful?
One reason to clear up debris from your garden at this time of year is to get rid of the failures of the summer. These are the plants that didn't grow or didn't do as well as you hoped they would.
We all have failures. Often they are due to the fact that we try to stretch the envelope as to what will grow where we live.
Before raking up all the dead plants, check for seed heads. Some seedpods are beautiful and worth keeping as decorations until the seed has dispersed. Conversely, you may wish to be sure the seeds don't have a chance to grow as you don't want any more of those in your flower beds. Don't overlook the vegetable patch. Even the garlic and onions produce attractive seed heads.
Anytime now we could get below freezing temperatures. It is time to protect your frost-sensitive plants. Some
may need to be moved into a greenhouse, a conservatory, a cold frame, or maybe just into your own home.
If you don't know what to do with a particular plant, or a group of plants you have, you may need to ask your local nurseryman for advice. There are too many types of plants to give advice in this column as to whether or not they may survive the winter in this area. If you are new to living here, take a look at other gardens nearby and see which plants they have outside year-round.
Another way of finding out is to join a local garden club and ask the other members what they do with their plants in winter. Local nurseries will know when and where the local garden clubs meet.
Think about your perennials. Which ones have grown so much that they are pushing on other plants and will need dividing and replanting, and which of your friends might like the surplus roots? Peonies and irises benefit from regular dividing.
Trees and shrubs
Remember the last snows which fell in the Payson area? Many tree and shrub limbs were broken off by the weight of that snow. Instead of letting that happen again, look at your trees now and see if they would benefit by having some limbs removed now before the next snow has the chance of weighing them down and breaking them off haphazardly, leaving jagged, untidy broken sections. Consider the shrubs as well. Some of these can benefit by removal of excess growth before winter sets in, saving untidy breaks in the cold weather that are also more susceptible to becoming hosts for viruses and bugs when the weather warms up again. A compromise has to be made with cutting back in the fall between reducing breakage versus damaging the beautiful natural shape of some trees and shrubs by cutting them back.
As the production of blooms slow down, roses usually benefit by cutting back in fall to ease snow load, and don't forget to mulch them well. Mulching with a deep layer helps to keep the roots insulated from the cold. When I was growing a lot of rose bushes, I used to cut them down to about 18 inches high in the autumn, then complete the full pruning in spring. The elk ate all of my roses in Payson.
There is still time to plant the early flowering bulbs such as crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils, narcissi and tulips. Plan the accompanying low-growing annuals you will be planting between those that bloom a little later than the very early ones. Alyssum and lobelia, in all the colors now available, are ideal for planting between tulips in the spring. Once you see the first crocus you know spring is almost here.
Don't overlook the humble snowdrop.
Sow cool-season vegetables
Now is the time to sow seeds of cool-season vegetables and herbs, such as bok choy, carrots, chard, kale and lettuce. And cool-season flowers, too.
If you haven't done it already, pick herbs and dry them so you have a ready supply for cooking in winter. It is good to do this before the seed heads have developed and the leaves have started to wither.
"Out on a Limb: Gardening Challenges in the High Desert and Forest" is the theme of the 2006 Master Gardeners Conference to be held on Oct. 13 and 14 at the Hon-Dah Resort in Pinetop. It is open to non-Master Gardeners as well. Anyone interested in the many facets of gardening will be able to learn a lot from the talks, which are graded as nontechnical through more technical to suit all who attend. There are also Gourd Birdhouse Workshops for which pre-registration is required. This event is presented by the Arizona Highlands Master Gardeners of Navajo, Coconino, Gila and Yavapai Counties. For more information, call (928) 532-6139 or visit their Web site at cals.arizona.edu/navajo/ahgc/conference2006.html.
-- To contact Carol Clapp e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.