Along the Garden Path: Check for perennials


By Charlene Thornhill - Along the Garden Path



Have you purchased perennials in September or October and they don’t make it through the winter? Fall is a good time to check out the garden centers for perennials that are marked down for the end of the season.

You can now find big discounts on plants that have passed their peak. Most sellers knock down prices fast when their perennials go out of bloom, and lower them even more when the plants start looking down and out.

We all know that the bargain area has super cheap prices and it’s not hard to tell why? To some, it’s called death row but that’s actually where some gardeners head first in hopes of finding a steal. The plants often look pitiful or even near death, but some are still worth a shot. If it’s wilted, generally sad looking or has yellowing or dying foliage, but the right price, grab it—as long as there’s still some green and it’s not diseased.

When you find those marked down bargains and think it’s hard to pass up the opportunity for a bargain, go ahead and pick them up! Expect to find perennials at 50 percent or even 75 percent off. Keep in mind that the longer you wait for deals, the smaller the selection and the less time you have to get plants established.

Those bargain plants need to be planted in early September and not the end of September which is a little too late. You want to get an early start to give roots time to get established. Once you get your bargain plants home, the first order of business is to give them a thorough drink. Set them in a tray or saucer to catch the water that pours through the potting mix, and let them take their time soaking it up. The later you plant them, the chances of getting a good root system established before winter sets in goes down. Once planted, make sure you keep watering them just like you do in the spring.

Remember that dead spot you noticed in midsummer? How about the garden bed that needs a splash of yellow or blue? Now is the time to address those areas.

Frost might seem like your biggest fall planting challenge, but it’s actually not a huge problem. Frost will kill the tops of your new plants but it won’t affect the root growth. The roots will grow until the soil freezes solid, which is often weeks or even months after the first frost hits. Soil usually doesn’t freeze until after Thanksgiving.

In spring the soil is cold so the roots of newly planted perennials grow slowly. In fall the soil is warm, so roots grow faster. Since the plants don’t produce flowers, they have more energy for sending vigorous roots into the soil of their new home. But again, do your part by planting new perennials in good soil and watering thoroughly. By the time the growing season rolls around again, they’ll be happily settled.

Then proceed as if they were the healthiest plants in the world. Lower temperatures and shorter days mean plants need less water, but if rain is scarce, water them weekly until the soil freezes. Remember that, under the ground, those roots are still growing.

In the winter when temperatures fluctuate, the soil freezes and thaws, pushing the roots up out of the ground. They are then exposed to the air and dry out.

To increase your chances of success when planting perennials in the late summer and early fall, water as long as the soil stays dry and mulch the plants in late November when the ground starts to freeze.

A few perennials to plant in the fall include Asters, Bee Balm, Bleeding Heart, Columbine, Daylilies, Echinacea, Ferns, Hosta, Peonies, Penstemon, Phlox, Sedums, and Iris.

Wait until the soil freezes hard and spread a few inches of mulch around your perennials—not to prevent soil from freezing, but to keep it from thawing. Roots that aren’t solidly anchored can heave out of the soil when the ground freezes and thaws, putting the plant in danger of getting killed by cold. Once mulch is on, you’re all set. Even if a few of your new perennials don’t make it, you’re probably still coming out ahead. Fall planting gives you a big jump on spring gardening, so you have more time in the busy season.

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By Charlene Thornhill

Along the Garden Path

Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at chardonn@embarqmail.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at chardonn@embarqmail.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.