Nystrom's Nursery
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Autumn Dos and Don'ts

By Neil Peterson

Last Updated Oct 8, 2012 12:26:47 PM

So after a horrific summer, we've marched dutifully into a really beautiful, temperate Autumn [big sigh of relief]. The conditions this summer brought are in a big way to thank for the really fantastic show of fall color. The trees and shrubs are as happy to put the heat behind us as most people I know, and are attempting to prime themselves for a better season next year.

It seems odd to assign a quality like "optimism" to a tree, but living things-conscious or not- are always striving to eke out a little better living. That being said, plants really got beat up this year. A vehement gardener myself, I planted virtually nothing this summer, and focused on trying to preserve what I deemed my most valuable and cherished plants.

Some of these plants are not wildly unique or rare, but it's their story I wish to maintain. These include some 'Beverly Sills' Bearded Iris and Hosta varieties which came from my Grandmother. I also have some White Trillium, which has been split and shared amongst Petersons for four generations.  

1st Fall Do: Now can be a good time to divide some plants. Bearded Iris are typically divided in early summer following flowering, but I've found them to be so tough, fall works too. Hostas and Daylilies are also candidates for division. I like to lift the whole clump and use a steak knife to excise exact portions. Other perennials to divide in fall are Coral Bells, Bee Balm, Coreopsis, Peonies, and Black-Eyed Susan. Consider sharing some of your plants with friends and family this fall.

1st Fall Don't: Fall division of some plants can be fatal! Butterfly Weed, Baptisia, and Helleborus cannot be divided at all. Ornamental grasses should only be divided and moved in spring when first growth is observed.

2nd Fall Do: Collect and compost your leaves or mulch them in with the mower. Leaves are very rich in nutrition. Back to the second paragraph about optimism- trees deliberately leave nutrients in their leaves, which break down on the soil surface, and nourish the soil. When you rake, it circumvents the nutrient cycle, leaving the soil slightly less rich every season. Mulching your leaves in with the mower is easier than raking, and keeps Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorous in your soil. Otherwise, make compost, which can be spread in the fall (typically with leaves from the previous autumn) and allowed to work in over winter.

2nd Fall Don't: Don't bag and throw out your leaves.

3rd Fall Do: Be optimistic yourself. Use fall to plan your garden for next year. Reflect on when and how you use your space. Do you want some fragrance by a patio or front door? Do you need some shade in summer? Do you wish you had more room for vegetables? Autumn presents a wonderful time of year for introspection and development. Fall is when you identify what you want from your garden and appreciate the toil.

3rd Fall Don't: Don't let autumn pass you by. I was lucky enough to drive down Route 2 from Rockford to Byron on October 4th-the fall display was amazing. This time of year is very ephemeral, the last hurrah before winter claims our daylight and temperatures. Don't sit on your keister and miss the show.