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Oh `deer', it's here: Fall planting time.

Byline: Paul Rogers

COLUMN: Roots of Wisdom

As the days shorten and the nights cool, gardeners think of fall planting. Actually, this year, notable for its continuous rains, has been ideal for all types of planting all summer long. However, the fall season continues to be the best time of year for the installation of lawns and other ornamental grasses as well as trees, shrubs, perennials and many of the ground covers.

Why are the months of September and October particularly favored for planting? Numerous reasons, including: warm soil and cool air temperatures that favor the re-establishment of root systems, ample supplies of soil moisture, and shortening daylength that programs plants to favor root growth and food storage over stem and leaf development.

In the autumn, perennials of all types (trees included) are programmed toward winter survival. These plants are genetically driven to prepare for the coming winter season.

Thus, plants installed now are able to gain a full season of growth over those plants installed in the spring, when the soil is cold and lengthening days stimulate leaf production.

One of the fears expressed by some homeowners is that fall-planted plants may suffer from feeding by deer. Many lists have been published of plants that are resistant to deer. However, when the deer are hungry in the winter, few plants are left completely alone. Yet barberry, boxwood and butterfly bush are always left alone (in my experience). All of the colored-leaf barberry shrubs make attractive landscape specimens. The green-leaf Japanese barberry is on some of the invasive plant lists just because it is avoided by feeding-deer so completely that it is often the only plant left growing in some areas. However, the colored-leaf forms like Ruby Carousel, Crimson Pygmy and Helmond Pillar produce fewer viable seed, as does the yellow-leaf Bonanza Gold, and thus are less apt to self-seed.

Butterfly bush also has the capability to self-sow but who ever has too many butterfly bushes? Boxwood in all of its forms is a wonderful evergreen that has many roles to play in any landscape. All of the spruces, perhaps because of their sharp, needle-like foliage, are left alone. The native bayberry is an under-utilized plant that does have a tendency to sucker (sending offshoots out from the plant base) but overall is a plant to use in full sun and poor soil.

Among the Andromeda (Pieris sp.), both the mound-forming floribunda and the tall-reaching japonica together with all of their evergreen, broad-leaf cultivars are to be admired. Do, however, locate them in part-shade so as to limit sun-induced stress. The junipers, tall, short, arching and variegated forms, are all deer-resistant, likely because of their sharp needles. Interestingly, the shrubby cinquefoils (Potentilla) also seem to be avoided by hungry deer. I do not know why as the plants do not have aromatic foliage, thorns or other apparent mechanisms to dissuade deer. The Potentillas range from rounded, 4-foot tall shrubs with yellow, orange or white flowers down to herbaceous groundcovers. All prefer sunny locations, flower most of the summer, and are largely pest-free.

Among the perennials, lavender cotton, lamb's ears, sage, and other fuzzy-leaf, gray-colored plants are left alone. All of the mints (Mentha), with their abundance of pungent oils, the catmints (Nepeta) for the same reasons, and rhubarb, rue, germanda, thyme, anise and hyssop, are also free from deer damage. Time to plant, but be selective if you garden in deer country.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 28, 2008
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