I know I’m beginning to sound like a nag, but a number of garden chores remain for the fall. Some of them will make your flower gardens look good this year, and some will make them look better next year.

Too often, the garden begins to look bare and ugly at this time of year. You look out your windows or turn into your driveway, and there just isn’t any color.

“Chrysanthemums and asters are the obvious choice,” said Genevieve Coombs, nursery manager at Roosevelt Trail Garden Center in Windham.

Asters have the advantage of being truly perennial. If you plant them this fall, they will come back indefinitely, as long as something unusual doesn’t happen. They grow 3 to 5 feet tall, depending on the variety, and come in a variety of colors including blue, pink, white and purple.

“We treat chrysanthemums as annuals,” Coombs said, although she noted that sometimes they will survive the winter and come back the next year. “It’s mostly dumb luck” when they do that.

Although you might have had a chance to enjoy the chrysanthemums a bit longer if you had planted them around Labor Day, Coombs said you will still get a lot of enjoyment out of them if you plant them now.

Roosevelt Trail sells mostly late-blooming chrysanthemums, and they should look good until the middle of October.

“A hard frost will turn the blossoms mushy,” Coombs said, “so if you hear of a frost coming, you can cover the blossoms with a paper bag and extend their life.”

Coombs also suggested that people plant fall sedums to bring even more color to the garden.

“Autumn Joy is a great one, with blooms right through the frost,” she said. “It has a nice strong stem with a pink flower.”

Other perennials that look good in the garden now are black-eyed Susans or Rudbeckia, which are going by just a little bit by now, and chelone, or turtlehead, which produces a pink or rose flower through September.

If you want yellow or orange for your color, there’s Helenium “Superbum,” which is yellow and 4 to 5 feet tall, or Helenium “Mardi Gras,” which is shorter (3 feet) and yellow with orange.

Of course, there’s also Joe Pye Weed, sort of pink bloom, but definitely a “back of the border” plant at 5 feet tall.

But you can do more than add plants to make the fall garden look better.

“You also want to cut back the perennials that have gone by,” Coombs said. “I don’t want to look at all of that brown through the season. If you like, you can leave the ones like echinacea that have good seed heads.”

Chipmunks like echinacea seed heads. Nancy was in a garden recently, and the owner complained that the chipmunks grabbed echinacea seed heads, ran to the Adirondack chairs overlooking Casco Bay and ate them, seemingly having a great party.

And chipmunks have been everywhere this growing season so if they’re prevalent in your gardens, you may not have the “cones” of the echinacea standing in your garden for long.

You should also tend to your mulch. After a full season, especially with a lot of heavy rain this fall, it could use some help. “You can either turn over the mulch or put on a top dressing or new layer to spruce things up a bit,” Coombs said.

Looking ahead to spring, you also should start putting in bulbs — tulips, daffodils, alliums, hyacinth, scilla and similar early bloomers. If your garden has lots of chipmunks or other animal competition, think of planting lots of daffodils and alliums, because most animals won’t touch them.

“Labor Day is a good starting point for putting in bulbs,” Coombs said. You could put them in much later — really, anytime before the ground freezes — and still get good results, but earlier is better.

“What actually happens,” she said, “is that when you put the bulbs in, they put out roots and get established this year, and in the spring, they put those roots to good use.”

Bulbs are among the first spring blooms and bring much joy, so it is good to put in a lot of them. You can put them right among the perennials that you have in the garden, because the bulb shoots will come out of the ground before the perennials do. And later on, when the bulb plants have gone by, the perennials will hide the foliage while they feed the bulbs.

The traditional fertilizer for bulbs is bone meal, and Coombs recommends Bulb-Tone, commercial fertilizer that contains bone meal and other items because it provides calcium and phosphorous, which the plants needs.

I just got an electronic newsletter from White Flower Farm, and they say, “The ideal bulb fertilizer is slow-release, lower in nitrogen (which supports leaf growth) and higher in phosphorus and potassium (to enhance roots and flowers).”

Opponents of bone meal say it attracts pests that will dig up and perhaps eat your flower bulbs, and that bone meal alone is not a complete fertilizer.

The choice is yours.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 ir at:

[email protected]


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