Gardening -- as a hobby, pastime, passion or career path - connects us to our surroundings like
little else. From season to season and year to year, gardeners are constantly learning, and we're
eager to share our growing experience with others. It's a really friendly community.
Newbies will start out slowly, tentatively -- visiting a nursery or garden center in spring and
deciding as best they can on which plants to bring home from the abundant, exuberant display
of form, foliage and flower. It's kind of scary, this overwhelming selection process - what if my
plant doesn't thrive? Thankfully, early choices and experiments often work out and, as
experience broadens, the landscape of the newly-more- confident gardener begins to fill with an
increasing variety of annuals, perennials, and woodies.
The more experienced novices seek information on garden design, bloom succession, seasonal
interest, soil health, pest management, and the larger ecological connections between the
garden and the world. Many can't get enough of their new passion and enroll in courses, go to
lectures, visit gardens and botanical gardens for inspiration; while others are content to keep it
simple and prefer a "manageable" number of plantings and lots of open space.
For the die-hard gardener, there's barely time to take a breath between putting the garden to
bed and "spring," which begins right after the winter solstice when the days start getting longer
and the seed catalogs arrive. They ask for garden tools from Santa. They gaze out over the stark
winter landscape and ponder the coming growing season: Hmmm, wouldn't that open spot in
front of the fence look better planted with a red-twig dogwood? Surely the lavender berries of a
Callicarpa would stand out just perfectly against the big boulder out back.
Callicarpa dichtoma 'Early Amethyst'
And just when gardeners of all stages can't stand to wait another moment, April arrives ...
garden centers and nurseries open up, garden club and conservation district plant sales
abound, and it's finally time to head out and pick this perennial, that annual, and - oh my gosh
- how could I pass up that gorgeous flowering crabapple over there in full bloom?
Malus 'Donald Wyman'
For the next few months there's a frantic period of adopting plants and trying to get them in
the ground in a timely manner. Die-hards are continually revisiting favorite plant purveyors to
make sure they haven't missed anything (they surely have!). But for many of us, by July it's
pretty much over. The dog days arrive, the cicadas buzz, and after sweating through early
morning weeding, watering, and tending, we retreat to our air-conditioning, pools or the beach.
Admiring our gardens from shady porches and patios, we may notice a more subdued display.
Plants and gardeners alike are starting to head into dormancy and it often happens that, in our
frenzy to buy things that look great at the nursery in spring and summer, our gardens fall short
on late-season interest in the fruit, foliage or flower department.
Many smaller nurseries and garden centers are also going dormant, although their seasonal
offerings of brilliant chrysanthemums, ornamental cabbages and kales (and don't forget
pumpkins!) add that pop of color and form to any garden. Luckily for the gardener looking to
find some hardy plants that stand out in the late season, this is the time to see what's out
there. Knowledgeable and passionate staff at good nurseries and garden centers will happily
provide guidance. Remember, they like to reduce their inventory before winter, so there are
often bargains to be had.
Late-season planting has tremendous advantages. From mid-August through mid-October, leaf
transpiration is low and root generation potential is high. The moderate to cool temperatures
are less likely to cause heat stress, and seasonal rains help plants establish their root systems.
When the air temperature is cooler than the soil, new root growth is encouraged without new
top growth, making for a stronger, better developed root system for next spring when the plant
breaks dormancy. To bolster that all-important root growth, mulching your new plantings helps
retain the required moisture (never "volcano mulch," though!).
This is also the time to pick up bulbs for next spring. The magical first crocus, snowdrop, or giant
allium are the happy result of a little shopping around in the fall. Play with blooms in one color
or pull out your color wheel. Plant drifts of color, or throw a bucketful of bulbs and drop them
in holes where they land. Note bloom time to create a succession of color, and don't forget to
plan for different bloom heights.
So go forth and plant, but please heed this advice: avoid allowing the very beautiful, but
extremely invasive burning bush (Euonoymus alatus), porcelain berry, oriental bittersweet (or
any other invasive plant) to remain as guests on your property. They're the guests from hell
that can, and will, overcome any landscape, so don't make them welcome no matter how
pretty their fruit, foliage or flowers look. Responsible garden centers and nurseries would never
let you walk out with these plants, but that won't stop these thugs from finding their way into
your gardens. If you MUST buy Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), make sure you're not
buying one of the aggressive varieties. Barberry-infested forests are tick nurseries, providing a
prickly safe harbor for the little hosts of Lyme-disease carrying ticks.
With cooler days and less garden pressures, there's a great opportunity to learn more about
invasive plants in Connecticut at the 8th biennial Invasive Plant Symposium at UConn Storrs on
Tuesday, October 11. Titled "Invasive Plants in Our Changing World: Learn from the Past,
Prepare for the Future," the conference features national, regional, and local experts as well as
citizen volunteers sharing practical solutions for invasive plant management and actions
needed to promote native species and improve wildlife habitat. It normally sells out, so register
early at cipwg.uconn.edu.