Fall is the best time to plant: 5 tips to get your garden ready

Five things to do in the garden this week:

1. If you have ants in your containers, the best way to banish them is by flooding them out. Where a small container is concerned, place it in a bucket and fill it so that the water settles on the soil surface up to the top of the container. Allow the container to sit there for an hour, take it out and, if ants are still moving in or out of the container after a day or two, repeat the procedure, which may have to be done a few times until ants are gone. If the ants are in a large outdoor container that cannot be easily lifted into a still larger pot or tub, fill the container with water to the top, let the water drain through and fill it another time or two. Repeat this process every few days until the ants are gone. 

2. Having disposed of ants, how about termites? Regarding this subject, I received the following email from Elizabeth Eaves, who gardens in Agoura Hills: “I have three huge fruitless mulberry trees that have termites. They are over 50-60 years old. They still leaf out completely every year. I am wondering if they can be treated for termites and can continue to live for several more years”. It would be wise for you to call an arborist since, in California, termites in trees are invariably associated with decaying wood. Thus, you want to make sure that large branches – which could cause damage if they fell – have not been weakened by the termites. There are solutions short of tree removal such as injecting termiticide through holes drilled in termite-infested tree limbs followed by placement of termite bait stations at the base of your trees. You can find certified arborists in your area by visiting the website at treesaregood.org.

3. If you have managed to keep last year’s poinsettia alive until now, you can force its bracts to turn red by Thanksgiving and stay that way through the end of the year by doing the following: Place your plant where it receives plenty of bright light every day. Then, as night falls, remove your plant to a cool, dark place such as a closet for 14 hours. Water and fertilize as you would for any actively growing indoor plant and you should see the color change you seek after two months or so. 

4. Fall is the best time to plant. When planting, root growth is your initial priority and the temperature of your soil, still elevated from this summer’s heat, will encourage it. While you should always be especially attentive to a plant’s need for water during its first two weeks in the ground, you can be a little bit more relaxed about this as temperatures gradually decrease; even on hot days, there are fewer hours of sun due to shortening daylength and so the probability of water stress is reduced. While vegetables for the fall garden are best planted now, the optimal time for planting annual fall/winter flowers and perennials of every description will continue over the next two-month period.

5. Coneflower (Echinacea) is a dazzling selection to consider for fall planting. Coneflower is a perennial that is not that widely grown in our area, perhaps because it is native to prairies and woodlands (from Virginia to Iowa, from Florida to Texas) where, despite dry periods, rain can be expected to fall on and off throughout the growing season. Coneflowers do best in full sun although they accept some shade and are not bothered by freezing weather. Coneflower maintains its sturdiness when cut, holding its own in vase arrangements for more than a week. It has a clumping growth habit and will spread slowly from year to year, although its lifespan in our area is around three years. Meanwhile, though, you can propagate it by carefully cutting up its short, woody rhizomes into segments with leaves attached and potting them up. In addition, if the soil is especially to its liking, coneflower will self-sow as well. Coneflowers attract birds, bees, and butterflies, prefer a fast-draining sandy loam soil, but can also find their way in clay. Monrovia Nursery – a wholesale grower that supplies many local retail nurseries through which you can special order Monrovia plants – lists 45 coneflower varieties on its website (monrovia.com). There you will find coneflowers in every color except blue.

Send gardening tips and questions to joshua@perfectplants.com

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