Time to complete some fall chores with winter looming

  • Sunday, October 27, 2019 1:30am
  • Opinion

The last week of October means you’ll be haunted with regret if you don’t take the time to put your garden to bed.

This is the week to roll up and store those garden hoses, flush your drip irrigation system tubes with water and store away all outdoor furniture and supplies. Chop down the foliage of annuals and tender perennials and pull any weeds that could overwinter. Mow and edge the lawn for a final time before winter.

You procrastinators no longer have any excuse – winter is coming. Dig and store tender bulbs such as glads, begonias and dahlias and move potted succulents under the eaves of the house to protect them from winter rains. Tender succulents such as jade plants and Echeverias and other tender succulents should be moved indoors and enjoyed as houseplants for the winter.

There is still time to divide hardy perennials like daylilies and Shasta daisies. Circle the plant with a shovel and then pop the entire root ball out of the ground by digging below. Cut into the old roots with an ax or sharp shovel and replant smaller root sections into the ground or into plastic nursery pots. In spring, you’ll have lots of new perennial plants to share or add to your garden.

Q. What is the black grass that I saw planted into the top of a pumpkin? The leaves are only about 8 inches long. The black plant was still in a 4-inch nursery pot but set into a hallowed out pumpkin. No plant tag could be found, and the people that worked at the shop where it was used in a display have no idea what the name is. It is not a Heuchera plant and the leaves are true black not purple. Also, will it survive the winter outdoors? P.M., Maple Valley

A. The mysterious black plant is most likely black mondo grass or ophiopogon, and this grass-like plant is winter hardy in our Western Washington climate. They are not really grasses but members of the lily family that grow and spread slowly from underground bulbs. Black mondo grass may look great inside a pumpkin planter, but when the season ends transplant black mondo grass into the ground to overwinter in an area with moist soil and protection from the hot afternoon sun.

Black mondo grass can form a dramatic, dark groundcover over time. I started with a single plant years ago then began to divide up the clumps every spring to form a border between the edge of my front lawn and a garden bed next to the house. The spiky but delicate foliage is like a black lace slip peeking from beneath the skirt of the shrubbery. The most mysterious feature of this low-growing plant is that the foliage stays black all year long. It does not need trimming or pruning in the spring and certainly adds a bit of dark drama to container gardens, perennial displays and shrubbery beds.

Q. I purchased a flowering maple or Abutilon last winter at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show that is not really a maple but is a tropical looking plant. It has amazing bell-shaped flowers that look like Chinese lanterns. When I bought it in February it was 6 inches tall in a small pot. After growing all summer it is now 5 feet tall and covered with orange striped flowers. I moved it into the garage to try and keep it alive over the winter. Now the lower leaves are turning yellow and falling off. Can I save it? D.P., Seattle

A. Yes, Abutilon can be overwintered as a houseplant or stored in a frost free location such as a garage or shed over the winter. The trick is to withhold water just enough to make it go dormant but not enough to completely dry out the roots. One cup of water each month of the winter is a good starting point. Don’t worry about the yellow foliage and dropping blooms. This member of the mallow family is just going through its normal winter dormant period.

In spring when you see the tulips blooming, you can move it to a bright window and start to water more often. Once the danger of frost is past in May, place the still ugly potted plant outdoors in a sunny spot and consider how much pruning you want to do to shape the plant. Cut it back by half and wait to see if new foliage forms on the stumps. You can then continue to prune it in early summer to create a tree or shrubby form. The showy blooms are much loved by pollinators, and this spectacular blooming plant loves fertilizers, sunshine and good drainage.

Q. I need to move some evergreen shrubs. Is fall the time to do this? T. Email

A. Yes, you can dig and transplant evergreen shrubs and trees in the fall or spring. Dig the new hole twice as wide as the rootball. Roll the dug up plant onto a tarp or old shower curtain so you can drag it to the new location. You want to keep as much soil around the roots as possible and replant quickly at the same level it was growing before. Water, mulch and firm the soil with your hands rather than stomping the soil with heavy feet. New research tells us that compacting damp soil with heavy boots can destroy the important air pockets. Soil is full of living microbes. Be kind.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply. For more gardening information, she can be reached at her website, binettigarden.com.

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