Okay to Plant Perennials Until The Ground
How late is too late to plant potted perennial stock in
the fall? I know I'll have to water any new plantings until the
ground freezes -- if it ever does this winter! -- and I know a good
layer of mulch will ward off frost heave of late plantings with
poorly established roots. But should I risk putting in plants at
this late date or just winter them over in my unheated attached
garage or unheated garden shed?
I plant perennials in my own garden until the ground freezes and
have talked to many others who do the same. The key to the plants'
survival is probably not air temperature or even soil temperature
but soil condition. If you plant into well drained, loose soil
you'll have few losses. In beds that drain poorly or have compacted
soil, any light-weight, quick-drying clumps of potting mix will be
squeezed out and up during winter. The plant in that clump will dry
out and die. That's why a heavy mulch is part of the late planting
prescription -- if a plant does heave it will still have some
insulation until you can reset it in spring.
You can also hold the plants in pots if you protect them from
repeated freeze and thaw. In the ground, hardy roots are insulated
by soil. Separated from the cold by just a layer of plastic, they
may freeze-dry. Grouped together in the shade and covered with a
leaf pile, or enclosed in a garage or shed they should escape at
least some of the wide temperature swings that lead to such
During winter, water is even more important to plants in pots
than those in the ground. Check the pots occasionally, judging by
their weight whether they are drying out. As they do, put snow or
ice on the soil surface to moisten it during the next warm spell,
or water the pots as they thaw.
Let's be factual about Daylight Saving
... as you continue to write to me about it!
Benjamin Franklin may have been its first proponent, but that
was a jest in a 1784 essay "An Economical Project." He poked fun at
himself and all Parisians who, he said, never rose before noon. His
calculations indicated six hours of sun wasted per day meant
Parisians used 64,050,000 extra pounds of candle wax each year. He
made merry with the thought, proposing cannons be shot at dawn and
shutters on windows be banned to encourage earlier rising and fewer
During the first World War, European countries acted on the idea
to save on fuel needed to generate electricity. The U.S. enacted
DST in 1918 at the same time it instituted standard time zones to
end confusion in train schedules. DST was repealed in 1919 due to
popular demand but reinstated nationally year round during WWII.
That ended after the war, though some States opted for DST in
In 1966, a Federal law set fixed dates for the beginning and end
of DST, if used. This was in response to requests from broadcast
companies and others who had trouble with varied dates for the
change across the country. In 1973-74 during the Oil Embargo we
went to year-round DST for 15 months, to save the estimated 300,000
barrels of oil per year used to generate electricity for an extra
hour each evening.
Discard that notion, those of you who wrote, that DST had
something to do with allowing gardeners to work longer in their
Victory Gardens. And to those who claim it was enacted for the
benefit of farmers, just listen and you'll hear guffaws ringing
across the countryside. Farmers and others tied most closely tied
to sunup and sunset have always been opposed to DST. Take it from
M.N., a Canadian poultry farmer who wrote, "Chickens do not adopt
the change for several weeks, so the first of April and end of
October are very frustrating."
Trim those overgrown evergreens now...
... to make a pretty and soil-friendly cover for otherwise bare
annual planting beds. The crumbly soil you worked so hard to attain
will otherwise be pounded by winter rain and its components
separated to leave lightweight clay on top. So prune those shaggy
shrubs and layer the clippings over the bed, newest tips showing.
That's color and fragrance for you and a shock absorbing blanket
for the soil.
Green thumbs up
to J.M. who is trying to make her gardening simpler by
growing only plants so well suited to her site they will thrive
without fussing. This means giving up species she has been growing
but has to baby to keep alive. Given a gardener's urge to collect,
that's tough to do, yet she reports progress, saying, "I've given
away a lot of plant material and I'm getting better at it!"
Green thumbs down
to razing the garden for winter. Making a moonscape of what was
colorful and drew your eye for eight months is a quick ticket to
the melancholy of Seasonal Affect Disorder! When you clean up,
first remove or cut down only the plants that will shatter or turn
to mush over winter. Leave plants of substance. Then look over the
composition and cut out or add to make it more pleasing.
Originally published 11/16/02