Truth be told, South Sound gardeners get just as excited about gardening around here in October and November as they do when spring kicks off. Both mini seasons transition us from extreme to milder temperatures and, as a result, give us renewed “garden brain” energy. Herbaceous perennials, in particular, get a year’s head start by dividing, planting, and transplanting now.
Ponder Your Garden’s Successes
It’s always a good idea to take stock of what worked and what didn’t. Observing things like, “Did the rosemary languish or thrive?” Or, “Should I really have surrounded a fertilizer-hungry, thirsty rose with a Portulaca that thrives in poor dry soil?”
If you’re a list maker, try writing down what you observe, but if you’re more visual (like most of us), take a three-minute September/October video to refresh your memory for next May/June, when you wonder what you planted. Having some kind of record helps.
Prepare for What Comes Next
The fall cleanup isn’t for everybody. For instance, in perennial gardens, neatness may not count. The tendency is to cut back everything and pick up every leaf, but that’s not always the best thing to do. There are two schools of thought.
First thought: Armed with pruners and a big bucket, cut back every summer perennial to the ground, carefully clean up around them, and rake up leaves. Now your garden looks tidy. You probably lowered the slug population, and if you have any diseased plants, cleaning up like this really helps.
On second thought: Back off! This is by far the easiest and laziest method. Just let the herbaceous perennials die back naturally. The left-alone seedheads feed songbirds, and the decaying leaves and stems protect the crowns from any future freezes and also mark where you planted them in the first place. When you wait until early spring to clean up beds, it’s a snap. Everything has pretty much disintegrated. All you need to clean up is a rake and that bucket, followed by your favorite beverage and a good book!