There is an end to every good party and thankfully, every bad one, but whichever one your garden has taken you to this year, it’s time to start hunting for your coat and keys.
You might have exited early – wearied by the interminable small talk and tedium necessary to sustain the first half of any gathering. But if you stuck it out and began to reap the rewards, there’s a good chance you may not want to say goodbye. You might still be giddy from an exciting encounter with a late season canna, or thrilled (like me) to have witnessed the pairing of Ruellia britoniana ‘Purple Showers’ with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ that happened in the spare bedroom while everyone was examining new arrivals for interesting personality traits.
Yet leave we must. And how we leave very much determines what we’ll be invited to next year.
The metaphors (sadly for my editor), are endless. Will you hang on till the bitter end – sipping the last of the wine, nibbling at the chip crumbs and trying to convince yourself and the hostess that there is still a party going on? Or will you begin to tidy up in the kitchen – aware that putting leftovers in the fridge and running the dishwasher might make things a lot easier for everyone tomorrow?
I’m in the former camp due to a personality that craves a bit of organization – but at the same time I’m anxious to get the most out of my autumn garden – pushing the bloom season and keeping foliage fresh and full as long as possible.
One of my first fall chores is determining which potted plants will come in this year, and preparing them for that eventuality. They must be checked for pests such as mealy bug, scale or spider mite and treated as necessary, then brought inside before wild temperature fluctuations encourage dormancy and leaf drop. Omitting this crucial step and hauling them in when temperatures threaten the freezing mark is to subject my inside spaces to weak, spindly plants in mid-January.
Staying on top of late-season weeds in established beds is also a huge priority for me. After so much work planting them up, it makes little sense to allow opportunists to seed themselves for the following season. This is so worth the time you can make to stay on top of it.
A really good tidying of the potting shed and garage is also in order by mid-September. Doing so makes it easy to bring in totes of canna rhizomes and large ceramic containers as well as other nonsense that needs protection over the winter. It also allows me to locate trays and sowing supplies that will be required shortly after the last celebrity rendition of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ is piped over Pandora.
I am also taking small cuttings and potting up pups of tender succulents that I wish to overwinter such as echeveria, crasssula, kalanchoe and aloe. This way I can dispose of overgrown plants that would take up far too much room on a crowded light table. They will join softwood cuttings of ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood I am propagating to increase my stock.
There are plants being moved and/or planted (and that’s one of the thrills of the season), but there are also shrubs and small trees (such as crepe myrtle) that must wait for a spring shovel or be killed over the winter.
If they’re marginally hardy in our Zone 7 climate, a good rule of thumb is to wait to transplant and instead cover the pot with a good pile of mulch over the winter. There are exceptions to this rule. For instance, Zone 4 red buds do better for me (read: live) if they are spring transplanted – but overall if the plant is finicky, I wait and mark them with tags to jog the memory in March.
There is a pleasant satisfaction to ending the growing season on my own terms. There will be years I don’t mind being thrown out on my ear, but when I think of all the brush clearing to be done in January and February, it makes sense to take a rest between parties.