The big question this time of year is, “What can I plant now?” The answer? Bulbs!
Ornamental spring bloomers such as diminutive snowdrops, crocuses, tulips, daffodils, other members of the Narcissus family and more are planted now through early November.
When shopping around, look for the word “naturalizing” if you want bulbs to multiply and come back each year. Most tolerate various light and soil conditions.
To grow bulbs in pots, add a good inch (2.5 cm+) to the recommended planting depth, usually equalling three times the size of the bulb.
My very favourite bulbs are alliums. They are long-lasting and spectacular throughout all stages of growing and blooming. Beauty notwithstanding, they’re an important source of nectar and pollen for bees. Stately Allium giganteum looks grand for months. Try A. schubertii, A. christophii and other beguiling cultivars for spectacular results.
Instead of tossing fallen leaves, use this free bounty to stuff pots halfway when planting bulbs, then top up with soil. And remember that squirrels can be naughty, unearthing and chewing newly planted bulbs. A little human hair sprinkled on top of your planting usually deters them (ask for the sweepings at your hair salon). Some British gardeners advise using grindings of pure soap applied atop bulbs before covering with extra soil.
Look for autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale, C. speciosum and cultivars) in garden centres to brighten and lighten pots or beds. These naturalize like crazy and grow happily in shade, sun or anything in between. Try interplanting with Geranium macrorrhizum – a more or less evergreen garden workhorse that thrives anywhere, including under cedars in dusty, dry soil. Its leaves have a pleasant, musky scent in warm weather and become reddish in the cold. Both these plants are extremely attractive to bees, yet are not tasty to deer, so they can be used to fill beds wherever foragers roam.
Sow garden greens early in the fall
Some large fruited tomatoes and Roma types just don’t perform that well in B.C.’s summers. If your tomatoes need help colouring up, strew damaged or bruised windfall apples at the base of plants. The ethylene gas emitted by apples aids ripening. Next year, stick to varieties such as ‘Sungold F1’, which ripens almost no matter what the weather, and consider enclosing your tomatoes in a greenhouse, hoop house or other structure for more satisfying results.
Next, set out summer-grown veggies for overwintering in spots vacated by peas, zucchini and tomatoes. Add a little organic matter and water well. If you didn’t start any, look for cabbage, kale, chard, winter-hardy leeks and even spinach at your local garden centre.
Increase your stock of raspberries by taking semi-hardwood cuttings. Just poke them into the ground or into pots, and they’ll likely take root, yielding fruit next year. You can also cut strawberry plant’s runners off mother plants now to plug in somewhere else in the garden.
I’ve given up growing on flat ground, as sow bugs, especially in their larval stage, enjoy the berries and leave very few for me! A good healthy strawberry plant or three in a terra-cotta pot, if fed regularly, is the way to go. Don’t forget to soak the pot in water for at least 24 hours before planting.
Take rasberry cuttings and replant in pots or the ground for a bumper crop
Come October, plant broad beans and garlic for next year’s harvesting. This is also an ideal time to add manure or compost to your garden, and then strew a thick layer of leaves over top to add nutrients to your soil.
Or if you’d prefer to devote more space to growing food, consider converting a portion of your grass to a “lasagna” garden. Lasagna means layer in Italian, and farmers have been sheet composting for hundreds of years, which simply means layering organic materials to make a built-up garden bed without an edge.
You’ll need green material (nitrogen – a.k.a. the filling): fresh leaves (ideally run over with your lawn mower), green grass clippings, unfinished compost, manure, coffee grounds including filters and/or tea leaves. And you’ll need brown material (carbon source – a.k.a. the noodles): dry leaves, straw or hay, dried evergreen needles, newspaper torn in strips, biodegradable paper or cardboard in bits.
Lastly, ensure you have a supply of good garden soil and a few handfuls of granular organic fertilizer.
Simply lay out your newspaper six or more sheets thick in the shape of bed you want, say 60 cm by 150 cm (2 ft. by 5 ft.), on top of a grassy area mowed very short.
Sprinkle water on the newspaper to keep the sheets in line and tidy. On top of it, start building your layers, alternating green and brown (filling and noodles, filling and noodles. . .).
If you have fresh animal manure, let that be one of the bottom-most layers. Continue to build your lasagna, patting down well and watering each layer. As you get close to about 18 cm (7 in.) of organic material, sprinkle in handfuls of fertilizer (think of it as the grated cheese). Now, add a layer of top soil about 15 cm (6 in.) deep. Tuck in some nursery-bought or homegrown summer-planted kale and chard and stand back!