Monday, November 28, 2011

Golden foliage/flowers/fruits/feasts

The goldenrod may have died back and the maple leaves shed, but there is still a wealth of gold in the garden.

Fronds of soft needle-leaved Amsonia hubrichtii are waving in the fall breezes.  This plant has benefited tremendously from being moved to a sunnier spot (even though it took its transplanting hard and slow) and being sheared to 10 inches after spring blooming.

A male American holly Ilex opaca is sporting jaunty yellow berries. The Ilex ladies next to him don't care that he is a ill-shaped shambling wreck as long as he has the goods.

Happily established on our front stairs, volunteers of "Dakota Gold" helenium are welcome interlopers.  I like them better than the potted mums that are our (snore) official flower display.

And, inside, it's all amber, yellow, and ochre.  Let's call it golden and say thanks!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Over-wintering dahlias, the extreme edition

My standard regimen is to treat dahlias like high-style annuals.  At the end of the growing season, I cut down their foliage, fork up the tubers, and toss the whole vegetative mess away.  However, over past few years, I've accidentally left a piece of tuber buried over the winter.  I never realize my oversight until the following spring, when a lush green sprout cuts through the soil about a month earlier than any of the newly planted dahlias.  That headstart pays off big in terms of bloom duration and plant vigor.

This summer, it was a nubbin of Normandy Painted Pearl that made the seasonal leap--a happy achievement since I had been unable to locate that variety among dahlia nurseries.

So this got me to thinking: As satisfying as it may be, why rely on mistakes and carelessness for serendipitous garden success? Why not be intentional?  Yes, this is a Zone 6 New England garden and dahlias may be tender perennials, but they have demonstrated that they can spend a chilly winter safely nestled next to a south-facing foundation wall.

With the goal of volitional gardening in mind (and having been unsuccessful with conventional winter storage), I've undertaken the extreme edition of dahlia over-wintering.  Following our first hard frost (and pre-season bizzard) last month, I allowed the foliage to wilt, brown, and start to harden off.  After two weeks, I cut each plant down.

The lowest part of  the stalks was still succulent.  Just to mark the location of each plant and to ensure proper stake placement next spring, I substituted the orthopedic metal stakes that these heavy plants require for support with a lighter variety.

At this point, I tried to simply recreate my previous haphazard technique by digging down to expose the clump of tubers. With clippers, I cut off each stalk where it ended. Those plump, juicy tubers looked good enough to eat!

The final step was simply back-filling each hole and mulching the row of plants with shredded maple leaves. Hopefully, this covering will be the extra little blanket that keeps the tubers snug during the winter snows.

The dahlia varieties are, from left to right, Pattycake, Arabian Nights, and Normandy Painted Pearl. Except for the minimal effort expended by running over the leaves twice with the lawn mower, I think that this over-wintering approach serves my intention to enjoy being a lazy and lackidasical gardener.  Not that that takes much effort!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jump to it!

It was perfect weather over this holiday weekend for jumping through autumn chores.  Cool enough for vigorous lawn mowing (the lazy gardener's way of cleaning up fallen leaves), but still warm enough to get my hands wet.  Some urgent tasks can be checked off, but others need to be completed before winter bears down on us.

1.  Fertilize rhododendrons, hollies, and other broad leaf evergreens with Holly-Tone. Done 11/13/2011
2.  Prune climbing rose "New Dawn."
3.  Cut back perennials. On-going 11/12/2011-12/4/2011
4.  Spread composted manure on beds. 11/27/2011-12/4/2011
5.  Clip iris leaves. 11/12/2011-12/4/2011
6.  Pull and discard tomato and other container plants.  Scrub planters and put away. Done 11/13/2011
7.  Plant spring bulbs.  Done 11/12/2011
8.  Spray "Sky Needle" hollies with anti-dessicant.
9.  Compost fallen leaves after shredding by mowing twice.  Done 11/13/2011.  More, please!
10.  Remove old amaryllises from pots and cool for nine weeks.  In the refrigerator 11/28/2011.  Pot up newly purchased amaryllises. 12/1/2011

Fall harvest: compost bin and wash tub filled with shredded leaves