Have you noticed red tree leaves everywhere? This is definitely the turn of the season, and autumn is upon us. Let’s hope there will be an extended period of frost-free weeks for gardeners lasting well into November, because there’s some serious catching up to do!
Why you should fertilize your lawn this fall
I’m confessing that I didn’t fertilize my lawn this past spring or summer. There are several reasons for this, but my excuses don’t really matter — the lawn is hungry now and would appreciate a good meal. If you’ve been in a garden centre recently (to pick up some plants on sale), you might have noticed the bags of autumn lawn fertilizer. The first three weeks of October are prime times for feeding turfgrass, and an autumn feeding is the most important meal of the growing season. Cool air temperature in early October slows the growth of grass blades, allowing nutrients to strengthen roots for better winter survival. A significant portion of the autumn fertilizer is absorbed by grass plant crowns and stored for early spring release, just when you want to see a quick green-up (but don’t want to get out in the still-chilly air to feed the lawn).
The nutrient analysis in autumn lawn fertilizers is low in nitrogen (so not to stimulate blade growth), and high in potassium and phosphorus to build disease resistance and cold hardiness. It’s clear that this autumn feeding brings many benefits, particularly when the gardener is unreliable with respect to feeding schedules. (And you know who I’m talking about.) If you’re taking advantage of the season to aerate the lawn (to improve drainage and increase oxygen in the root zone) and repair damaged areas (either with seed or sod), do those chores first and apply the autumn fertilizer last, even as late as early November if the ground isn’t frozen. Your lawn will love you for it!
My wild streak indulging the ivy, ferns and other friends
When I start my autumn cleanup, I begin in cultivated beds where I’ve monitored every leaf or petal that unfolds through the growing season. But on my one-third acre suburban lot, there are also dusty corners that receive fewer visits and less attention, and that’s where I’ve had to compromise between conscientious maintenance and just covering the soil with plants that will prosper on their own. It’s interesting at this time of year to assess how things are working (or perhaps not working), and consider if I need to make changes. In some areas, English ivy (Hedera helix, Zone 5) spontaneously rolled in from a neighbouring garden, and has replaced turfgrass in the shade. The grass never grows well there, but the ivy is hard to control and would be easier with a firm or contained border. However, it does make a dense groundcover that suppresses weeds. This time of year I rip out a big bagful to keep it in check, and that’s work I don’t enjoy.
There are other plants I’m glad to let run wild, such as ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris, syn. M. pensylvanica, Zone 2), with fronds remaining green in summer shade and just now turning brown. The ferns spread at a slow pace, and are easily pulled out or transplanted. A hybrid geranium (G. x oxonianum ‘Claridge Druce’, Zone 4) has seeded itself through the shrub border, with pleasant mounds of shiny foliage and bright pink flowers most of the summer. ‘Claridge Druce’ always looks good and I move the seedlings around. In autumn, all that’s needed is a quick cutback of the clumps.
I’ve insinuated purchased pots of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum, Zone 4) all over the place. Its blazing white spring flowers and carpeting mats of star-like foliage fill in nicely wherever the sun isn’t too strong, and it remains green and standing until early January (yes, amazing). And there are three perennial fumewort species (all Zone 4) with light green ferny foliage and orchid-like flowers, blooming from spring to frost—Corydalis lutea, with yellow flowers; C. ochroleuca, with yellow and white blooms; and the ephemeral C. solida that grows rapidly from seeds and reproducing bulblets, with mauve blossoms in early spring, before it entirely disappears in June. These fumeworts are good low spreaders, but have shallow and delicate root systems. They’re easily removed where not wanted; usually a disapproving glance is enough to unsettle them.
I know some gardeners tear their hair out when confronted with such wild abandon, but I’m happy to see plants that are healthy, robust and self-reliant. And I like to have attractive, naturalized plants running about and weaving themselves into seasonal tapestries. Although this relaxed planting strategy solves some problems for my woodland-type garden, it’s important to acknowledge this method suits a larger planting space and is inappropriate for smaller city gardens. Once again, I remind myself that practical matters are the necessary foundation for wild flights of fancy.
I can’t be without Clematis x durandii
Autumn brings moments of appreciation when I realize how much I’ve enjoyed certain plants. The list of plants I simply can’t be without is getting longer, and perhaps needs vetting, but certainly I couldn’t delete Durand’s clematis, C. x durandii. It has large, indigo blue flowers with creamy anthers, and blooms for 12 weeks in a sunny location (making productive side shoots). This non-clinging, multi-stem clematis grows to about five feet (1.5 m) and needs some support, such as a neighbouring shrub, as it’s wasted if allowed to scramble along the ground. I put a tomato cage over the crown in early spring, and then insert thin green bamboo stakes (inexpensive hardware store kind) for each stem as it grows above the cage, attaching the stems with vine clips (from leevalleytools.com). I’m admittedly obsessive about C. x durandii, but this is understandable once you’ve seen it.
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