It’s always a shame that just when your window box has reached their peak of fullness and color, autumn sneaks in and nips at the foliage and flowers, signaling it’s time to clean them out. Or is it? This season, try extending the life of your window boxes, so you can appreciate their beauty year-round, each time you glance out your winter windows.
To spruce up your boxes, start by removing what looks old and tired: the geranium leaves are beginning to yellow, the verbena is way past its prime, and the dianthus isn’t flowering anymore. But the ageratum seems to be perking up now that the heat of summer has passed, and the ivy and vinca are holding their own. You can fill in gaps with cool season flowers such as mums and pansies and probably get another three weeks of flowering out of those boxes.
When freezing temperatures arrive, it’s time for flowering brassicas, such as kale and cabbage, with their colorful, curious foliage. Plant them directly into the boxes and they will last all winter long through the harshest of weather. As you plant, tuck daffodil and tulip bulbs under the flowering kale to guarantee an early spring show. You can mix in cut sprigs of crabapples, viburnums, winterberry, or any other shrub or tree with clusters of colorful berries and strong branches. Just stick the branches into the soil in the boxes, and your only problem will be the birds and wildlife competing for the berries! Tangled grapevines and bittersweet, with its orange seed coats and red berries, quickly go from noxious weeds growing in the wild to precious commodities in autumn and winter window boxes.
Evergreen branches from spruce, balsam, and fir will retain their color throughout the winter months as long as the temperature is low. Stick their ends into the soil just before the soil freezes, arranging them en masse. For the holidays, string little white lights through the boughs and tie on weatherproof velvet bows. Discard the branches once the temperatures start to warm, but don’t worry, your window boxes won’t be bare for long. The tulip and daffodil bulbs you carefully tucked in for the winter will soon be coming to life, and the cycle will begin anew.
As your lawn endures the trials of job this summer – drought, pestilence and disease – you must hold to the hope that there is a lush, green turf on the other side of this summer. Has your spring turf been reduced to an arid, brown toasty color? If not, you might want to submit your water bills for federal disaster relief. Dry, scorching heat is the perfect scenario for crabgrass to flourish and bluegrass to perish. What’s needed, of course, is a good, deep penetrating rain.
The large Japanese beetle population will mean a heavier than normal population of grubs. Knowledge is of course your best defense. Here are a couple of suggestions for reviving your lawn..
Feeding: Your lawn’s nitrogen needs are at their highest in late summer. Avoid fertilizing when temps are about 85 degrees. Supplement this late summer feed (high in nitrogen) with a fall fertilizer that will concentrate on developing the root system. This will build a turf more resistant to drought and pest damage. This might be your most beneficial feeding. You can supply a fall food right into November in most areas.
Pest Control: In late summer and early fall the grub cycle begins as the larvae pupate into the common white lawn grub. At this stage of their development, these grubs are the most vulnerable. Treat infested areas with either a liquid dose or a granular treatment as either dylox, diazanon or oftanol.
Watering: A good rule of thumb is to water in the early morning hours. Try to provide at least 1 to 1.5 inches of water through rainfall or irrigation. A deep watering once a week is more beneficial than a series of shallow watering.
Seeding: To repair damage caused by drought, pests and disease, plan on a fall seeding program. Match the grass seed varieties to the conditions. For example, if you have a rocky, sandy soil that doesn’t hold moisture well, use a drought resistant lawn mixture featuring turf-type tall fescues (TTTF). Unlike ryegrass that spread by shallow rhizomes, TTTF have long individual tap roots. They are tough, durable and make a long wearing attractive turf. Heavy clay soils might do better with a bluegrass and ryegrass mixture. Fall is an optimum time for seeding. The warm weather speeds germination while the autumn night temps start to drop. Remember to keep the seed moist until established. That might require 2-3 mistings during our “Indian Summers”. The attention you pay to your lawn now will pay big dividends in the fall, the following spring and for years to come.
For your Lawn
- Water deep and infrequently during the summer months. One inch of water early in the day about once a week is adequate.
- Help your lawn out by changing direction when mowing. Travel north to south on one mowing and east to west on the next cutting.
- In late August, prepare the lawn areas for seeding tall fescue or bluegrass. Seed or fertilize lawns the last week of August.
For your Vegetable Garden
- As parts of the vegetable garden come to an end, remove plants. Put them in your compost pile if not infested with insects or diseases. If disease, insects or nematodes have been a problem dispose of the plants to reduce the number of pests that survive the winter.
- Japanese beetles are pests this time of year. Spray as needed, but removing by hand is more effective.
For your Flower Beds
- Give houseplants a new lease on life. Repot them to give them more room for roots to grow and fresh potting soil.
- Remove faded flowers on flowering perennials to encourage a second flowering. Cut back impatiens, begonias and salvia that have become too tall or top heavy. Cutting them back will make them bushy, with more blooms.
- Perennial seeds of hollyhock, delphinium and stokesia can be sown now to produce plants for next spring.
- If plants such as petunias have become leggy and their flower production has diminished, rejuvenate them by cutting off the branches, fertilizing, and watering them. It will encourage new growth and flowering.
- Make sure hanging baskets have ample water; they will dry out rapidly in the summer heat.
- Stake tall-growing flowers to prevent them from falling.
- Monitor the water needs of container gardens daily. Move plants from hot surfaces to places that are shaded and cooler.
For your Trees & Shrubs
- Give landscape plants a second, and last, feeding of fertilizer.
- Have trees and bushes in need of pruning? Prune ‘bleeder’ trees like maple, dogwood, birch and elm, as well as the fruiting canes of raspberry and blackberry plants after harvest is over. Cut canes at ground level. Refrain from pruning spring-flowering shrubs now.
- Don’t fertilize shrubs in August, September, October or November, it could cause new growth at a dangerous weather time.
- Watch for damaging insects on evergreens. Scale, spider mites, leaf miner and leafhopper can be a problem.
- Avoid spraying pesticides on very hot days or when plants are drought stressed.
- Maintain a layer of mulch two to four inches around trees and shrubs and two inches around annuals and perennials. Keep mulch a few inches away from plant trunks or stems. Mulch keeps the soil cooler, conserves moisture, and reduces weeds.
- Compost can be added as a top dressing around your shrubs and perennials. It will help hold moisture and will enhance the soil to help promote the long-term health of your plants.
If your perennial flower garden gets a little drab and boring come late summer and fall, think about planting dahlias. Gardeners are always trying to find colorful flowers to keep the show going into autumn, and dahlias are the perfect star to fit the bill. Dahlias just need a little more thought and attention compared to other perennial flowers.
Dahlias offer a wide range of flower types. There are flowers shaped like pom-poms, anemones, cactus, orchids, and water lilies. The flowers come with single or double petals and in almost any color of the rainbow from white to purple. Some varieties produce flowers the size of a dinner plate, while others have small flowers on dwarf plants.
Whatever dahlia variety you choose, they all grow from tubers planted in spring. Dahlias are winter hardy in USDA Zone 7 and warmer zones. In colder areas, the tubers need to be dug and stored in winter after a frost. Gardeners in warmer-winter climates can treat dahlias like perennials. Due to threats from disease and insects, however, some gardeners in warm-winter climates still prefer to dig and store their dahlias to protect them.
Plant dahlias on well-drained soil amended with compost. Dahlias grow best in full sun, but can take some afternoon shade in the South. Plant tubers about 4 to 6 inches deep in the soil. Unless your soil is extremely dry, don’t water until you start seeing signs of plant growth. Consider planting in groups and remember the ultimate height of your plants. Tall varieties look good tucked in the back of a perennial garden, while medium- to dwarf-sized plants look best right up front. For tall varieties, you may have to use plant stands or stakes to keep the plants upright. To promote bushier growth, when the plants are about 18 inches tall, pinch out the tip of the central shoot; this causes the plant to send out side branches, which will lead to more flowers.