Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Fall is time for lawn care, crocus and clematis blooms

Think of September as a great time for lawn renovation. You know if you need it. The hot, dry summer revealed all those problem “brown” spots in your lawn where soil has compacted or boulders are buried.

Dig down into those brown areas to remove any clay soil, boulders or gravel below the surface of your lawn.

Replace clay sections and fill in the space left from boulders with topsoil. Rake it level, then reseed or resod the area.

Another way to improve a struggling lawn is to fertilize now with a winter lawn food. The most important time to feed a lawn in Western Washington is September and October. You can also fertilize in the spring, but a fall feeding will ensure your lawn wakes up early in the spring to crowd out weeds.

A few reader questions, with answers:

Q. Can saffron crocus be grown in our area? I love to cook with saffron but it is a very expensive spice! Anon, email

A. Yes! Saffron crocus or crocus sativus is an underused herb and easy to grow in our area. You will need to order the bulbs online as I have not seen them for sale at local nurseries and you want to make sure you get the crocus for culinary use.

Find them at dutchgrown.com and plant the bulbs as soon as they arrive so you can harvest the saffron this fall. These beautiful purple crocus bloom in the fall but should not be confused with the autumn blooming crocus (crocus colchicums) which are not edible.

I suggest you plant and mark the location of the bulbs because after the autumn blooming the leaves will disappear. You will need at least 20 bulbs for a first year harvest but if not all the bulbs bloom this fall just wait until next autumn for an increased supply.

To harvest saffron, visit the flowers on a sunny morning when the petals are wide open and pull the long red filaments or stigmas off with your fingers.

Dry the threads indoors and store in an airtight container. Add these to a cup of hot broth or milk and let steep for 20 minutes. Now you have golden saffron for paella and Indian food or add this golden broth to mashed potatoes for a Midas touch at the holidays.

Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, but not because it is hard to grow – it is the hand harvesting of the thread-like filaments that makes it pricey. Even if you don’t intend to cook with saffron, add some crocus sativus to your garden for fall blooms in a rock garden or other sunny spot that has well-drained soil.

Q. I have a huge clump of phlox in my garden that grows about five feet tall and blooms each summer with clumps of white flowers. They smell wonderful at night. Over the years I notice I am getting fewer blooms. Do garden phlox need to be divided? Is so when? Thank you. L.S., Renton

A.Sounds like you are the proud owner of Phlox paniculata. The ‘David’ variety is a mildew-resistant white-flowering phlox that blooms at the end of summer.

This perennial needs to be divided every few years or it will become old and cranky. Fall is the perfect time to divide phlox and other perennials.

Dig the clump from the soil, cut off side sections into clumps the size of your fist and replant into soil that has been improved with compost. Retire the old center of the clump to your compost pile.

Phlox can suffer from mildew on the foliage, so give it a home in a mostly sunny spot with plenty of space to ensure good air circulation. Mulching on top of the soil each summer will keep the roots cool and the tops producing those fragrant, white domes of bloom.

Q. There is a huge vine that looks like a clematis that is covering a shed in our neighborhood. It is very fragrant and nobody prunes, waters or feeds this monster of a plant. I would love to grow it as a screening vine along a fence. Do you have any idea what it could be? M.P., Puyallup

A. Sounds like you have met the Sweet Autumn Clematis or Clematis terniflora. This rapidly growing vine becomes covered with small but fragrant white blooms at the end of summer and into fall. It is happiest when given lots of room to sprawl and like all clematis does best in rich, moist soil with its top in the sun and roots in the shade. Growing a clematis on the north or shaded side of a stump or shed is perfect as the top will head for the sunshine.

Fall is a good time to add clematis vines to the garden. Using this aggressive grower as a screen is fine if you don’t mind that it will lose most of its leaves each winter and that dead brown foliage often clings to the stems. Don’t prune clematis now; wait until the vines go dormant in late winter or early spring. Spring blooming clematis should be pruned just after they flower. If clematis pruning has you confused, just remember that all clematis grow best if they are never pruned at all — so give them room.

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