There's a lot of work to be done now to keep plants and soil healthy and ensure that, come spring, you won't be buried in cleanup work or under a pile of crowded, overgrown perennials. Check out the Garden Detective's full list of chores that need to be done in the coming weeks.
Beverly Norkelun and daughter Sara loaded up on plants at Trimbles Nursery. At the nursery, look for potted trees whenever you can; those that are balled-and-burlapped (B&B) were dug up from the ground and may have suffered root damage in the process. (Sept. 1, 2012)
When planting shrubs, dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and exactly as deep, and mix one-third compost to two-thirds of the soil removed from the hole. Backfill, tamp tightly and water well.
Two to three inches of shredded bark mulch will go a long way toward protecting roots from heaving out of the soil (or too close to the surface) during the freeze-thaw cycles of winter. But wait until first frost before mulching or you'll risk trapping warmth in the soil, which may delay the roots' dormancy and make them susceptible to winter injury, stressing and possibly killing the plant.
Consider replacing summer annuals with pansies, which will lend color until frost and bloom again in spring. Pansies are annuals, too, but their life cycle runs from fall through spring, not spring through fall. It's the summer heat that kills them off; unlike other annuals, they survive winter very nicely.
This is a great time to get steep discounts on perennials, as nurseries are having sales to clear out their inventory, but proceed with caution: Snap plants up as long as they look healthy -- such as these Sweet William (dianthus barbatus) plants at Trimbles Nursery -- and use them to fill in gaps you noticed this year.
Sara Norkelun, 22, plant sneezeweed, a perennial that grows to about 4 feet. (Sept. 1, 2012)
Although trees and shrubs appear to have stopped growing, continue to water until the ground freezes. Roots are still growing underground and are busy storing up food and energy for next year.
If spring- or summer-blooming perennials were crowded or showed signs of decline this year, now is the time to divide them. Most perennials -- coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, daylilies, Dutch irises, catmints, hostas and the like -- can be divided very easily by inserting a spade or long-handled garden fork in sections all around the plant, leaning on and rocking the tool's handle with each segmentation to loosen the rootball. (Sept. 1, 2012)