What a difference a week makes | Gardening

Let’s see. Last week is was extolling the virtues of our wonderful Indian Summer and how these warm sunny days were extending the growing season for us. As you were reading you must have thought I had lost my mind considering that in fact our Indian Summer seems to have vanished now that fall is officially here. But you need to remember that these columns are written the week before they are published and at the time I was pondering my subject matter it was indeed glorious outside. What a difference a week makes.

On September 17, the Missus and I headed over to Spokane for a conference and it was 88 degrees and gorgeous. On Saturday the 20th we headed back home and as we hit the summit at Snoqualmie it started to rain and continued through the night and half of Sunday. I put a turtle neck on Sunday morning and turned the heat on in the house. The good news is that by Sunday afternoon the turtle neck had been shed and I was back in a tee shirt and Monday turned out to be pretty darn nice too. The rest of the week sounds a bit iffy but then again, it is Fall.

So now we are into October and I promised I would avail you with more of my gardening wisdom for what it’s worth. Here are a few more thoughts on what not to worry about.

Lawns — I have noticed a few crane flies around the porch light the last few days. They look like daddy long legs spiders with wings. These adults only live a couple of days during which time they mate and lay a bunch of eggs, usually in our lawns. Several years ago crane flies were a real problem and gardeners were dousing their lawns with toxic chemicals like Diazinon and Dursban. Fortunately, these products are no longer on the shelves and we have newer (and hopefully better) chemistry to use if needed. But in reality, most of us don’t need to do anything. Birds like starlings, robins and red winged black birds do a pretty good job of keeping these populations down and if you use chemicals, even the newer ones, you run the risk of killing the good bugs in the soil too. So my advice is to put up a bird feeder or two and make sure you have some birds in the yard. And don’t worry, it will be fine.

Containers — I touched on this last week and had delusions of stretching my container plantings into October but that is no longer the case. These last couple of rains have pretty much finished them off. It’s time to jerk out the summer stuff and hi-tail it on down to the garden center and look for something that will last all winter. Surprisingly, there is a large selection of evergreen perennials, ornamental grasses, conifers, pansies, cabbage and kale and of course bulbs that can be planted now that will keep us entertained all winter and into early spring. Don’t worry that some of these plants will have to be removed in spring and transplanted into the garden. They gave you pleasure in the pots and they will continue to do the same in the garden. Double your pleasure, double your fun. Help stamp out ugly winter containers.

Perennials — this is where we separate the anal retentive from the laissez-faire gardener. To clean or not to clean, that is the question. What you do with your perennials at the end of the season is mostly a matter of personal preference. The plants will usually adapt. Typically, starting now and accelerating into November we frantically remove foliage as it starts to look old and tired and cut bloomed out stems back to the ground. If we are really obsessive then once we have raped all the perennials and removed all the leaves from the trees we blanket the ground with some fresh bark and completely forget about the garden until spring. But wait; what about those birds we needed to eat the crane fly larvae? Don’t they need to be able to feast on some old seed heads and scurry about the fallen leaves looking for other bugs too? If we leave the garden on the messy side until mid to late February then we usually benefit from all the critters we attract into the garden plus any nutrients left in the fallen leaves will leach into the soil and feed the microorganisms. And often, perennials that are not cut back hard until February tend to over winter better and are stronger the next season. But either way you go, don’t worry, it will be fine.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. You can reach him at 425-334-2002 or email at

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