For a colorful winter garden - start now

October 5, 2011 

Dirt Cheap Gardening awaits thrifty gardeners this month as nurseries put trees, shrubs, vines and many perennials on sale for fall planting. In our climate, autumn is the best time of year to add plants to the landscape because the cool soil and fall rains encourage stronger root growth.

Look for plants that will enhance your garden during the cold, dark months of November, December and January.

• Plants with colorful bark: Jackmonti birch with pure white bark, coral bark maples, paper bark maples, and shrubby red twig and yellow twig dogwoods will change the look of your winter landscape.

You can really play up the drama by timing an outdoor landscape light onto the colorful bark. What a way to warm up your welcome home on a dark winter night.

• Plants with bird-feeding berries: You get a bonus here with color from both the berries and the birds that will visit your garden. Hollies, Oregon grape, pyracanthea and cotoneaster all provide beautiful berries for the birds.

• Plants that look good naked: Trees and shrubs that twist and turn will hold snow and frost on their beautiful limbs and add texture to the winter garden. Beautiful nudes look especially nice when placed in front of a solid wall or dark evergreen background. Look for contorted filberts, Twisty Baby dwarf black locust or Robinia, gracefully weeping wisteria trees and the delicate looking but winter-hardy weeping threadleaf arborvitae.

• Fall is for feasting: Extend the season of your vegetable harvest.

Simply covering your tomatoes, leaf crops and roots crops can extend the harvest for weeks or even into late November.

• Saving the tomatoes: Keep them dry and they’ll turn red. Use tall stakes of rebar to make a cone-shaped tent over tall tomato plants in the ground and drape with plastic. Move potted tomatoes plants under cover. You can also harvest green tomatoes and let them ripen indoors or uproot the entire plant and hang upside-down from the rafters of a garage or garden shed.

• Dirt-cheap cold frames: Use PVC plastic hoops, metal hoops or even hula hoops for support and cover your rows of veggies with bubble wrap, corrugated plastic or use old windows laid atop a stack of cement blocks. Just a small area covered by glass can continue to provide fresh greens and herbs from the garden all winter.

Consider October a second spring and replant your summer-weary pots and containers with color that you can enjoy all winter and into the spring. Start your autumn containers by planting some spring blooming bulbs into the potting soil now so that they can break through and bloom this winter.

Crocus bulbs and dwarf daffodils will bloom as early as January in a container that is grown close to the house.

Next add a perennial such as Sedum Autumn Joy or Euphorbia Glacier Blue in the center or back of the pot. Contrast the upright form and colorful foliage with a winter blooming heather near the front of the pot and use the rest of the available space for winter-blooming pansies. The smaller the flowers on the pansy, the better they can tolerate cold weather.

If you follow this recipe using bulbs, perennials, heathers and pansies you will have color all winter – with spring bulbs that will pop up through the foliage of the other plants.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her website

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