The benefits of autumn planting.

All things green.
Sept. 22 2008 6:45 AM

"Autumn Is a Second Spring"

The advantages of planting a garden in the fall.

(Continued from Page 1)

Look for container-grown, or balled and burlapped, shrubs and trees. For all the season's benefits, fall is not a good time to dig trees out of a field where their roots have sprawled and would have to be trimmed back.

If you garden in a cold-winter area, it's better to wait till spring to plant shrubs or perennials that are marginal—things like buddleia or caryopteris.

Advertisement

Fall transplanting means using less water. It's cooler, and the plants are less thirsty while they're going dormant. But those recently planted shrubs and perennials and trees do need a deep, thorough soaking at planting time; and when there's no snow cover, water every four weeks or so through the winter.

Here's the most important caution. You may want to give your new plants a little artificial assistance in the form of fertilizer. Don't give them a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, which would encourage succulent, green, springlike growth at a time when you, and the plant, want dormancy.

For immediate cheer, remember that anywhere but in the most tropical parts of the country you can put in pansies. A newly bred super race of the velvety flower, with names like "Snowman" and "Icicle," has just hit the market. In horticulture labs, scientists have intensified pansies' natural cold tolerance. (They're related to wild violets, which developed a sort of antifreeze in order to survive the cold on the deeply shady forest floor.) These new pansies will bloom now, sit tight under the snow, and pop back to bloom again in spring. Not surprisingly, they hate heat, and you'll probably have to compost them next spring.

Even if you don't feel like buying anything new, fall is a good time for cathartic, satisfyingly destructive garden activities. Leave echinacea, sunflowers, and cosmos to go to seed and feed the birds, but tear up annuals like impatiens, marigolds, petunias, zinnias, and tomato plants. If you're not ready to start a compost pile, here's an alternative that requires high aerobic output (and saves on plastic garbage bags): Dig a trench in your vegetable plot. Pile in the tomato stalks and shriveled pepper plants and blackened basil plants, etc. Cover with earth, and next spring you will have Worm City and good soil.

Since we've gotten candidates from Hawaii and Alaska, I've been enjoying the sound of the phrase "the noncontiguous United States." It turns out that even in Alaska, fall is a good time to plant. It's true that by Halloween Anchorage usually has snow on the ground. But up until then, as long as the ground isn't frozen, Alaskans should be digging.

For residents of everywhere else: Even if you've never done a thing in your garden, plant some spring bulbs. You can do this late; it's actually best to plant bulbs after a killing frost. Their only demand is a sunny spot and well-drained soil.

One more note on composting: When wild tulips first came to Western Europe from Turkey in 1562, the burghers of Antwerp, who saw them as onionish, tried to eat them. Not surprisingly, they didn't like them and had their servants toss the extra bulbs onto a pile of organic refuse. The bulbs rooted themselves in the muck and flowered—another tribute to the generative powers of compost heaps. A few centuries later, the Dutch, including a young Audrey Hepburn, would eat them during the days of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Constance Casey is a former New York City Department of Parks gardener and writes the monthly "Species" column for Landscape Architecture Magazine.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Culturebox

The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM What Happens When You Serve McDonald’s to Food Snobs and Tell Them It’s Organic
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 4:36 PM Vampire Porn Mindgeek is a cautionary tale of consolidating production and distribution in a single, monopolistic owner.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.