The lone voice of horticultural reason

Fall Duties II

Only five hours of summer remain as I write this week’s column. By the time this is published, it will be a very special time: fall in Minnesota.

As a gardener, if you are willing, even eager, to welcome fall, it’s a good sign your summer gardening pace was proper. At the end of a well-paced summer I find myself peacefully accepting its end, and ready to enjoy the spectacular change of season. Today I relish the memories of those periods this summer when my garden looked darn fine, and don’t kick myself too hard for the experiments that didn’t go so well. With any luck we have a good four weeks left to watch our gardens grow, and a few final experiments to judge.

On the other hand, if you’re at the point now where you would cheer, loudly, if you awoke tomorrow to discover that an early, severe frost had killed every plant and half the animals in your yard, it’s a possible sign you’ve arrived at season’s end just a wee bit exhausted. It’s called burnout, and comes from falling in love with gardening so fast and so hard you attempt to do in one year what realistically should take three, or four. I worked myself to the point of burnout each of the first three years I gardened, and I don’t know how my wife stayed with me. Now, I look back at this summer and realize there are a number of garden projects I had hoped to complete but didn’t, yet find myself quite accepting of the fact they will just have to wait until next season. Obsession is not, I have discovered, a healthful by-product of one’s hobby.

The early start granted our perennials left many wondering what would be left to bloom this fall. As I look at my garden and others in the neighborhood, however, I see we needn’t have worried. Fall-flowering perennials (most notably the stars of the fall garden, the chrysanthemums) are triggered into bloom by the shorter days and cooler nights of summer’s end, not the total length of the growing season. Looking at my notes I see my mums are blooming at exactly the same time as they did last year.

Which reminds me to remind the new gardeners that we do need to keep watering our perennials this time of year, especially since September has been very dry. I’ve never found watering a chore. Fifteen minutes spent waving the watering wand before heading to work is a very relaxing way to start the day.

Now is also an important time to get the hose running around the base of your shrubs and ornamental trees, particularly those planted this year. Water shrubs and trees right up until the first hard frost. Don’t be stingy. In August I planted a curving row of five Korean boxwood, twenty inches apart, that I’ll be forming into a low hedge; once a week I take ten minutes to give all five a good soak. Ten minutes is not too long to spend soaking one medium-sized (4′ – 6′) tree or shrub. After work I turn on the hose and let it run at the base of my larger shrubs, stepping outside and moving it every twenty minutes or so during the course of the evening.

Of course, there is such a thing as over-watering. This is one of the reasons I live in Deephaven, where we have wells. I can go to bed, wonder why the pump is running, then get up in my pajamas, step outside the final time, and turn the water off. If I lived where there was city water, the last shrub watered in the evening would get watered for nine hours, and die next spring from root-rot.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener