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Fall Gardening & What We Are About to Plant

Fall Gardening—there is hardly anything that cannot be done better now than next spring—and prices are likely less; and what are we about to plant!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

September 23, 2012

Photos of guess-who’s garden this week, again! The first four here are all from our partially-shaded east side garden. Above, Monkshood (Aconitum nepellus) is still in full bloom; ‘Autumn Joy’ stonecrop (Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’) just coming into full bloom; a newer variegated form with pink/white flowers; and our annual Lobelia still in full bloom (in Toronto we could never keep these in flower right through the summer!). Below, one side of our large pond with three colours of Schizostylis in full bloom (scarlet red in centre, pink in foreground and in the distance, a slightly pink/red one; the first Nerine bowdenii glistens like a spring bulb; the Crocosmia are still in full bloom along the path to my office; and tuberous and angel-wing begonias at the door to my office. Author photos..

Through the four decades of broadcasting and writing about gardening, I have always put a strong emphasis on fall gardening activities, and found that many others have not done so. In fact, at one point, I wrote and item taking on the Canadian horticultural industry for their lack of promotions during the fall season.

So, now that it is officially fall, I guess I should devote at least one entire article here on to just that—fall gardening.

As this is written on Friday, we are planning on visiting a couple of local nurseries/garden centres this weekend. On our acquisition list are fall pansies for sure, spring-flowering bulbs, ornamental cabbage and kale, various Chrysanthemums and some other gems that will come to mind as soon as we see the garden centres.

One of the great perennials that we love in the garden each late summer and fall are the Schizostylis coccinea (Hesperantha coccinea) which I had great difficulty obtaining five years ago and finally received several plants (in three colours) from friends in Victoria. While I know the botanical name(s) are difficult, the common name, kaffir lily, is at least as bad in that it is an extremely negative reference to the black race. As it turns out now, these plants now seem to be readily available—even one of our local supermarkets is carrying a small selection of them currently!

Many of our annual flower containers are still looking excellent! Tuberous and lace-wing begonias, petunias, lobelias, million bells, Celosia and many others still are great. In the perennial areas, Crocosmia, Sedum and Michaelmas daisies are at their best, while the bulb Nerine bowdenii is like a harbinger of spring!

But, we do have some holes, and that is where we’ll be sighting the winter pansies, cabbage and kale and what-ever else we come up with!

Although when I was (much) younger I grew a lot of different vegetables for our own consumption, we are not big at all on vegetables here now, but that doesn’t mean you should not be planting some fall crops now! I am sure that when we visit a few garden centres this weekend we will see paks of young vegetable seedlings in-cluding lettuce, Swiss chard, Greek basil and spinach. There will likely be others as well. But then, that is for here, where we have a considerably milder climate than say our old haunt of Toronto and similar climate zones back east. That is not to say you cannot grow fall vegetables in eastern Canada—you just need to be a little more selective than we do.

The growing of fall vegetables is considerably assisted if you install low or high hoops, available from various suppliers. Johnny’s Selected Seeds ( ), for example. Such hoops covered in Tufflite Nursery Clear Greenhouse Film (4 mil) makes an ideal row cover that will protect a great number of plants.

For some, harvesting may be available in late fall, while others will have an early start next spring. It too is available from Johnny’s Seeds,

Looking at the calendar, you may realize there's not much time left until your first frost. But if you act fast, you can still get a good harvest of field crops in the next 30-60 days. You will need to pay extra attention to seeds and seedlings to prevent them from perishing in the heat, but once you get them established, they will thrive as the weather cools off.

You may also soon be thinking of picking all the tomatoes left on your plants whether or not they are showing any red colour. There are various ways of dealing with these and over the years I’ve tried most of them. The most often recommended method is to wrap each individual green tomato in newspaper and store them at room temperature on a flat surface. While this works, the problem, you need to partially un-wrap each tomato every other day or so to check on progress, and check for rot.

Finally, this week, I can hardly write about fall gardening without reminding everyone that for the vast majority of plants, fall is really a better planting season than the spring. The soil is warm and will remain so for some weeks yet.

A listener in Ontario has written to say he is going to have a whole new garden. He has a cedar (arborvitae) hedge to go in along one side, several smaller shade trees to shade the deck from afternoon and evening sun, a rose garden, and several areas of herbaceous perennials in front of deciduous shrubs along the other side of his garden. Actually, right now is the ideal planting time for most of these plants, but I have advised him possibly to hold off with the cedar hedge. Now, he'll no doubt be able to find a garden centre willing to sell him the nursery-grown cedars, and to guarantee them over the winter, but I still recommend that he wait until early next spring for that hedge. That is only my advice; there will be plenty of people advising to plant the hedge now. And, if the plants are already in a garden centre, dug, balled and burlapped, there is a good chance that they will over-winter well. So if a nursery warranty is offered and he wants to get them planted this fall, then he may want to do that.

For virtually everything else, with the possible exception of some of the perennials, they can and should be planted this autumn. I suggested he start with the rose bushes. Right now is a good time to pick and choose the varieties he favours if his garden centre has them. Then the next should be the shade trees and deciduous shrubs. These are not generally available from nurseries, bare root, until a good hard frost, so they should be ready soon. In any case, he should be preparing the holes. Once the trees and shrubs are in, and if there is still an opportunity, he might consider planting at least some of the herbaceous perennials--obviously those available at the garden centres. And, remember that each item planted this autumn has an opportunity to make good root growth in relatively warm soil.

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