September 16, 2014
I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. -Nathaniel Hawthorne, The American Notebooks
One silver lining about a cool-ish summer is that the sticky, hot, mosquito buzzing dog days were not experienced frequently enough to completely extinguish the energy needed for autumn gardening. In fact, in my case, a surprising gusto for tackling late season outdoor tasks has asserted itself. I am pleased to collect tomatoes, plant in the perennials whose tiny pots I've dutifully watered for weeks, and plan the spring show of tulips and daffodils.
If this appeals, read on for events and tips that celebrate autumn, this most beautiful of seasons in our northern clime. Events are listed first. Be sure to read through our autumn planting guide, with guest writer and MEG staff member, Stephen. You may have been lucky enough to have had him answer your questions about natives or edibles while shopping at the Longfellow store.
SALE - Our clear-it-out end of season sale includes Buy 2 Get 1 Free outdoor plants, 20% off storewide on other stuff, and a tent sale at both locations offering even deeper discounts. We'll keep the end date open, and see how quickly things get snatched up. The usual disclaimer: sale doesn't include mums, bulbs, garlic, straw or consignment items.
Monarch Festival at Lake Nokomis, this Saturday, September 6 from 10a-4p. We'll be there, selling native plants to host and feed monarchs! Enjoy music, food, a butterfly fun run for kids, making milkweed mudballs and more.
Cultivate Northeast, the new permaculture demonstration garden at the corner of Central and Lowry will be having cooking demonstrations and speakers on Wednesdays in September and early October. Join us September 17 at 6pm, along with Sen Yai Sen Lek, for a conversation about fall planting.
Tomato Taste-off! - Sadly, we had to cancel our in-person tomato tasting due to a scheduling conflict. But we've decided to make it virtual instead, and encourage one and all to post their tomato success stories, brave attempts, and utter fails on Facebook instead. Watch for our staff picks. We'll use the info in our yearly tomato variety ordering, so make your voice heard!
Now, let's head to the garden for Stephen's autumn planting thoughts, and a quick list of other fall projects.
Why Autumn is Such a Great Time to Plant
Spring fever long gone, many people have found they have not done all the planting they'd hoped to do this season. With our short growing season, you'll be happy to know that fall is an excellent time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Have you seen our sweet collection of native perennials?
Here at Mother Earth Gardens, we have seen an explosion of interest in native plantings, mainly pollinator gardens and rain gardens. If you find yourself needing more hands-in-soil time, you should take heart that there is still time to save the rain and the pollinators in your landscape this year. With cooler temperatures, more rainfall, and the kids back in school, you might find you even prefer fall planting. Some landscapers feel that Fall is better for establishing perennials since the plant is only being asked to establish its root system and make itself comfortable, rather than root, flower, set seed, all while dealing with our continental-climate heat. Native plants are easier to establish than many cultivated plants, since they don't require too much fussing with changing your soil.
There are no hard and fast rules for Fall planting. The generally accepted practice is to plant until about 6 weeks from the ground freezing (the MN DNR has this handy guide to assist), with many gardeners planting into mid-late October. (If you are planting trees and shrubs, just know that evergreens should be planted in early, not late Fall. Deciduous trees are fine anytime.) Another Important Tip: You need to keep watering your plantings! All plantings done during the current season should be monitored for dry soil and watered until the ground freezes in late November or early December. This includes freshly planted drought-tolerant plants. They still need water while establishing.
Caring for your Fall plantings is simpler than in Spring, since you are not fertilizing. If you just have to do something more than just plant, you can give them phosphorous and potassium, but NO NITROGEN. This helps the plants establish stronger root systems while discouraging tender green growth (which will inevitably die a horrible frosty death.) If you're really hopelessly in plant-love with your new goodies, add some compost in late Fall after the plants are dormant and watch them bust back into life first thing in Spring.
The biggest threat to Fall plantings is frost-heaving, which is not a manly sport played in Greenland (yes Greenland, Iceland is the warmer one), but actually the name given to the freeze-thaw patterns of Fall and early Spring which can cause your new plants to pop up in the soil. This can result in plants drying out too much, which can kill or permanently weaken them. Give your plants enough time to root properly (six weeks from ground freeze, see above) and you will avoid this troublesome phenomenon.
If you're looking to add natives to your yard and don't know where to start, feel free to come by the store and chat us up. We can answer questions or even provide private consultations to give you site-specific recommendations or designs. Don't give up on greenery yet; there will be plenty of time for snow-shoeing, hot chocolate, and ice castles in a little while.
Garlic and Ornamental Bulbs - Garlic (yes, we have it!) goes in after a couple of light frosts, each bulb makes a head. We have planting instructions to go with the garlic
Ornamental bulbs can be put it from September all the way into November (tulips). If you haven't experimented with layering your bulbs, it's worth giving it a try. Dig a hole about 16-18" wide by 12" deep. Start with a layer of late blooming daffodil, at least 8 to start with. Cover with 4" of soil and compost, mixed. Then put in a layer of mid-spring tulips with the 4" soil/compost mix on top. Finally layer in an early season crocus. Water well and add bone meal fertilizer if you like. In my yard, it is necessary to add a piece of chicken wire on top held down with garden pins to deter Madame Pesky Squirrel. We sell these items in bulk at the store. All done. Now you have a full spring season of bulbs in one garden.
Lawn - September is both a good time to put corn gluten down, and a good time to overseed. Problem is, corn gluten kills seed, including grass seed, and lasts for 5 weeks. You can pick one or the other. Or you can seed your yard, wait 5-10 for grass to germinate, then apply corn gluten. It does nothing to existing plants, just seeds and also happens to be an excellent nitrogen fertilizer. The lawn is one of the few areas that you continue to fertilize into fall.
A fall application of corn gluten helps with the seed of so-called winter annuals such as chickweed, plantain and dandelion that will develop new seed once the heat stress of summer is over.
Houseplants - It will soon be time to bring those green monsters back in the house. Check for any new settlements (ants, etc.) in the soil before you bring in! And give them a good shower to knock off any unseen pests and all the dirt that's accumulated over the season. If you've been fertilizing, cut back to once a month. We've got lists at both stores about which herbs you can bring in as houseplants, too.
Edibles - Easy cover crops to try for "green manure" in your veggie beds: winter wheat, winter rye and hairy vetch. Planting instructions are included at the store, and these seeds are sold by the ounce - you can buy just a little for your city corner.
SO, come on by. It's slow in September and we like company. Enjoy the autumn sun!