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Fall for a perfect garden.

Fall for a Perfect Garden

Sometimes autumn can be so mild that nature seems to be making a second attempt at spring. Grass grows tall, roses send out new blooms and goldenrods brighten fields with a yellow glow. Look around and discover the year's second big gardening season.

Plant Dutch Bulbs

For Spring Blooms

Fall presents the only opportunity to plant spring flowering bulbs imported from Holland. With the faith of squirrels storing their acorns for winter, gardeners trustingly bury these dry, scaly flowering bulbs each fall in full confidence that a bloom -- a daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, crocus -- will appear when next spring rolls around.

Soon after they're planted, spring flowering bulbs begin to send forth nubby roots that grow longer and deeper during the passing weeks. Coaxed through the soil by a warm spell in late winter, winter aconite and crocus usually open first. They are followed by daffodils, then by hyacinths, tulips and anemones.

If you want these blooms to come back year after year, fertilize the bulbs with a quality bulb food when you first plant them. Repeat the fertilization process after they bloom because that is when the foliage produces the food that provides energy for the next spring's blooms.

Autumn Planting,

Autumn Blooms

If you don't want to wait until spring to enjoy your flowering plants, consider planting bulbs that promise earlier blooms, such as paper whites. These tiny, jonquil-like blossoms transmit a sweet fragrance that, like the scent of a Christmas tree, will come to signify a special time of year.

Unlike tulips and other bulbs that need chilling before they bloom, paper whites are much more cooperative. In fact, they don't even need soil. All you have to do is rest several bulbs side by side atop a shallow dish filled with pebbles and water, then place the dish in a sunny window. If you maintain a water level that just touches the base of the bulbs, the plants will actually take care of themselves.

Almost as soon as you "plant" paper whites, the bulbs begin to sink roots through the pebbles and send up bladelike green leaves from the tip of the bulb. Soon flower buds appear atop stalks about the diameter of drinking straws. These stalks grow taller, and the buds swell until they finally blossom.

The process takes from four to eight weeks, depending on how warm you keep your house. The warmer the house, the faster paper whites grow. If you start the bulbs during October, you'll likely wake up to the fragrance of paper whites on a morning sometime near Thanksgiving.

"Paper white bulbs keep like onions, so you can stockpile them and pull a few out every two or three weeks to start a new bowl," says Sharon Whittington, a gardener and fancier of paper whites who lives in Birmingham, Ala. "The trick is to store the bulbs in a cool place, so they stay plump and don't sprout."

The Landscape Gets

A HEad Start

Spring is typically thought of as the season to plant hardy trees, shrubs and perennials, but fall planting offers a great advantage: Even though the tops of many plants are soon to be dormant, their roots continue to grow for weeks. This gives them a chance to take hold before winter and well in advance of the onslaught of summer heat and humidity.

As a note of caution, broadleaf evergreen such as hollies should not be planted until spring to protect them from cold, drying winds. If you live in an area where the ground freezes during winter, you should also wait to plant perennials, since alternate freezing and thawing of the ground is harmful and often heaves newly set perennials from the soil.

For many years gardeners have believed that tree and shrubs grow better if plenty of peat moss or other soil amendments are incorporated into the backfill. Several years ago, however, horticulturist Caril Whitcomb, Ph.D., of Stillwater, Okla., discovered that plants set in amended soil don't have any advantage over those planted in native, unimproved soil. However, it still helps to incorporate peat moss, compost, leaf mold or manure throughout an entire bed such as one for annual and perennial flowers and azaleas, blueberries and other members of the health family, or for ground cover.

Terrific Fall Veggies

Most vegetable gardeners love fall. The sky is clear, the air is crisp, and the garden produces the tastiest harvest of the year. Broccoli, spinach, carrots, beets and lettuce taste sweetest, as the cooler weather stimulates their physiology to make more sugar.

September brings perfect weather for sowing the beginnings of healthy fall and winter meals. Leaf lettuces such as Red Sails and Sald Bowl can be eaten almost as soon as they sprout. A bowl full of seedling makes a hearty accompaniment to a crock of steamy soup. As the lettuce grows, you can pick just the outer leaves while the center of the plant continues to produce more. These plants grow quickly in the clear, mild days.

The same applies to hardier leafy crops such as kale and spinach. They will grow very fast, but unlike most lettuce that cannot outlast a hard freeze. spinach and kale can withstand temperatures in the 20-degree range.

Roots crops such as carrots, beets and turnips are hardy, too. Even after their tops have been killed back, the roots remain healthy. As winter progresses, a mulch of straw put on at planting will help protect root crops from damage by alternate freezing and thawing of the ground.

If you don't have an area designated for growing vegetables, they can be planted in a corner of a flower bed or even in a container. As long as the roots have soil, fertilizer and water and get at least six hours of sun to supply energy, your vegetables will thrive.

Growing lettuce and other vegetables in a containiner isn't much different from planting them in outside soil, provided the vessel is large enough to hold at least 3 gallons of soil. (Small pots dry too quickly and don't allow enough space for the roots.) Fill the pot with a sterile potting soil to avoid a soil-borne fungus called damping off which kills seedling shortly after they sprout. Then sow the seeds at the depth recommended on the package. After the plants sprout, sprinkle them with a slow-release vegetable fertilizer. Next, thin the seedlings to the recommended spacing; then stand back and watch them grow.

Each day of autumn brings you closer to harvest - and to the magnificence of nature. When winter finally blows in, you can curl up in a chair with a good garden catalog and draw on the experience from your very recent garden to make plans for the one next spring.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala.
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Title Annotation:autumn gardening
Author:Chaplin, Lois Trigg
Publication:Arthritis Today
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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