Fall chill can be used to your garden’s advantage

October 23, 2013 

The end of October is when frost finishes off the summer garden, but there is time to improve your landscape if you enjoy working outdoors with a nip in the air.

It is not too late to add trees and shrubs to the landscape or to transplant overgrown shrubs. You can move shallow rooted shrubs such as rhodies, camellias and azaleas any time of year, but you won’t have to worry about keeping the soil moist after the transplant if you move them in October.

You can continue to add bulbs to the landscape and even to pot up bulbs such as Paperwhite Narcissus and hyacinths for early winter forcing indoors. As for how deeply to plant your bulb, the sage advice is to plant at twice the height of the bulb. This means the larger the bulb, the deeper the hole. Here are some more unusual bulbs to seek out and plant now:

Sweetly scented daffodils: The term “daffodil” applies to many members of the genus narcissus, a spring bloomer that adapts to shade, is not eaten by deer or voles, and loves our climate. You can find different varieties that flower from February until May. The timeliness of planting the bulb will influence when the flowers bloom. Planting in late October or November means you’ll have to wait longer for the flowers to bloom come spring.

One of the sweetest-smelling daffodils is Narcissus jonquilla with names such as “Pheasant’s Eye,” “Minnow” and “Thalia.”

An easy project with many happy returns is to fill a large pot with a few inches of potting soil, layer in enough narcissi so that they are sitting close to one another on their fat bottoms, and then cover the bulbs with at least six more inches of potting soil.

You can add a top layer of smaller bulbs such as crocus or snowdrops, and cap this with a few more inches of soil. Top off the layers of bulbs with some winter-blooming pansies.

Next, make sure the container will drain quickly by setting it on “pot feet” made from repurposed plastic water bottle caps. Leave this pot outdoors so the bulbs can experience the chill that they need before they can flower. In spring, you’ll have a beautiful display of fragrant flowers that will push up through the top layer of pansies. The pot can be moved to a front porch, back patio or just outside a bedroom window. Now you’ll really know what it means to have the smell of spring in the air.

Multi-flowering or bouquet tulips: Why plant a tulip bulb and get just one bloom, when for the same amount of work you can enjoy a bulb that produces four or five flowers? Welcome to the world of multiple-stemmed tulips. The variety “Happy Family” is a rich pink with multiple blooms, and the tulip “Antoinette” starts out pale yellow then changes to green and pink.

My favorite tulip, “Angelique,” displays double pink blooms flushed with white and always has more than just one flower per bulb in my garden. Angelique blooms on stems 18 inches tall. That is considered a bit short for a tulip, but in our rainy spring climate, taller tulips seem to topple over so I like to plant shorter varieties.

You don’t even need to know the names of the bulbs that you add to your garden this month. Gardening is an adventure, and your yard is your playground. Scoop up any end-of-season bulbs you find for sale, and just dig in. Spring will unwrap itself in mystery flowers, a gift for adventurous gardeners.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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