By Irene Virag
Summer’s over, but that doesn’t mean you have to put away your trowel or turn in your shovel. And don’t hang up your clippers just yet. It’s autumn, and the garden’s still out there.
In your vegetable beds and flower borders, you have ways to keep the growing season going.
You can protect plants from the inevitable frost with floating row covers, or glass cloches, or plastic-covered tunnels fashioned from half-inch PVC pipes.
Or you can build or buy a cold frame and nurture vegetables to warm you during the winter. Imagine stew pots and soup kettles brimming with escarole, leeks, carrots, turnips, and other root crops. And salad bowls filled with garden-fresh lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other greens. All of them sweet and mild, grown without the stress of summer heat and competition from weeds. Cold-hardy varieties are your best bets.
You can use a pricey prefab model or a homemade version for your cold frame. You even can create a cold frame by using bales of hay and an old window sash for the top. Whatever you use, it’s a good idea to position it against the south-facing side of a building to take advantage of the extra warmth and wind protection. Put a thermometer inside because, even in February on a sunny day, a cold frame can spike a temperature and need venting. You don’t want your veggies to get cooked until you cook them.
Also your cold frame may need a little protection when it gets really cold. So throw old rugs or blankets over it to keep the plants from freezing.
Inside this mini greenhouse even potted herbs and tender perennials should stay cozy through winter. And with a cold frame you can get an extra-early jump start on next spring’s garden.
You also have flowers to admire as this season winds down such as the last and best showing of your dahlias.
The flower colors only intensify as the weather gets cooler until a killing frost does in the blooms. Then it’s time to dig up the tubers and let these divas have their beauty rest.
Some perennials take the spotlight in the waning season. Now is the time to pay homage to autumn’s all-stars: Montauk daisies (shown), New England asters, Joe Pye weed, Japanese anemones, toad lilies, and goldenrod.
This is when ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum lives up to its name and shows its true colors before darkening to mahogany. But don’t just admire these beauties. Remember, fall is for planting. So as long as the ground is still workable, you can—and should—plant now for a glorious garden next fall.
If you’re thirsting for a shot of color as the earth cools, dig in some colchicums.
You don’t have to wait till next spring to enjoy these flowering bulbs. They bloom when you’re in the midst of the garden task that most defines autumn: planting tulips.
It’s all part of the cycle of the seasons. That’s what keeps gardens, as well as gardeners, growing.
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