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Fall Gardening
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

October 28, 2007

Fall is not all about putting the gardens to bed. There's a fair bit of gardening left to do. One of the most important things is to make sure you have lots of colour. Instead of looking at withered husks pointing their desiccated leaves at you in accusation- as if you were solely responsible for this drouthy summer- you can be distracted by the glitz and glamour of the fall show girls. Blooming mums and bursting azaleas picked up at the garden centres and nurseries are ideal. I might know that some limp and almost lifeless daylilies are sulking in the corner but with those brilliant bits of colour I can pretend for a little while.

Fer sure, to speak colloquially, this summer separated out the pretend xeriscape plants from the wannabees. Many of my cone flowers- Echinacea purpurea cvs- didn’t even pretend for me. They just limped through the summer. Flowering was very good but short and the foliage, after mid-June, never looked full. Rudbeckias of all kinds, however, shone this year. I had some in shade, many in sun, some in mulched beds and others not. They are still going strong and stealing the show. The best performer in dry shade (and I do mean dry as dust, bone dry, completely anhydrous) was Northern Gold Forsythia. Not only that but the shade is provided by a black walnut tree which gives the soil its poisonous offering of juglone. This shrub had excellent blooms in the spring, nice growth in the summer, and right now the leaves are full, large and glossy.

So, this is a good time to make notes. Where do you need mulch? Where do you need to lay down a soaker hose? What plants do you need to move into a more benign portion of your estate? What plants can you add to give you some colour at this time of year? (Portulaca, celosia, gazanias and gerberas are superb performing annuals in these conditions. Artemesia, Russian sage, lavender and ornamental grasses are excellent perennial providers.)

This is the perfect time to plant trees and shrubs. Cool nights, warm days and returning rains make for happy plants. To make it even better, many of your garden suppliers are having their fall sales. Caveat emptor- make sure the plant is healthy when you buy it. Sometimes, knowing that the season is ending and blow-out sales are just around the corner, plant care is reduced at some outlets.

In regards to trees, if you are going to be living at your current residence for a while, plant the smallest tree you can. (Naturally you will compromise between what small is in relation to immediate impact. That impact is twofold- on your landscape and on your wallet.) The smaller tree will establish its support systems (that’s a pun ‘cause the roots provide stabilising support as well and I always slip in at least one for our eldest daughter) which will allow it to contend with difficult situations such as drouths and high winds better than a larger tree. Have a picture taken with you standing beside it. Three years from planting, when you are thinking it hasn’t grown, you will look at the picture and be satisfied.

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