Samuel Johnson’s famous dictionary of 1747 defines hope as “the expectation of some good; an expectation indulged with pleasure…hope is that pleasure in the mind which everyone finds in himself upon the thought of a profitable future enjoyment of a thing which is apt to delight in.” Gardeners do all they do (and I stress all) in hope. They sow seeds, cultivate rose bushes, plant oak saplings and fruit orchards all with the expectation of some good to follow.
Sometimes that expectation must endure great discouragement. I admit I’ve been discouraged by this drought. Relief may not come as soon as we would wish, but it will come, and gardeners work and live with their hearts in the future. Sometimes that future is wildflowers in the spring, roses in May, even a shade tree a decade later. But we gardeners plant in hope.
What follows is fall’s “to do list”. If you are to get out in the garden, these are things that a hopeful gardener would consider.
- Old garden roses should be cut back now to stimulate a good fall crop of blooms. Remove any dead canes and new growth by cutting the bush back by at least a quarter and remember to water deeply at the base of the plant. Normally, we would have another bloom before the end of the year. We can hope!
- Remember to water plants like hollies, pyracantha, and similar berry-producing plants. If the plants are allowed to dry out now, they will drop the beautiful berries we delight in when the weather cools and the first frost comes. (Isn’t the first frost a glorious idea and even a winter snow- a cheering and hopeful thought, yes?).
- Cut back spent flowers on your perennials, especially the salvias, for they will produce vigorously new, blooming spikes. This also improves the plant’s appearance by keeping it tidy and compact in the hope of blooms to follow.
- If you want a spring crop of wildflowers, you should plant your seed now. hopefully a fall rain will get them started and growing in time to produce the wanted crop of spring bloom. Gardeners have to be hopeful that one season will follow another- fall, winter, springtime… Even now we must live in the expectation of some good!
- Now and until mid-October is the time to divide spring blooming plants like irises, ox-eye daisies, cannas, daylilies, etc. Dig the clump and separate into individual plants, re-setting them into well prepared soil. This is a task carried out in the late summer and fall with springtime bloomers in mind and hopefully spring rains. But, water now after you divide.
- Now is also the time (in a normal fall season) to at least be thinking about a fall and winter garden, cleaning up the last debris of the summer garden and preparing beds for fall crops But what is normal about our current drought? We MUST be hopeful!Here is the vegetable planting guide for the fall garden:
Arrugal 8/1 – 10/15
Broccoli plants – 9/15-10/1
Brussels sprouts – 9/1 – 10/1
Cabbage plants – 9/15 – 9/15
Carrots -9/15 – 10/15
Cauliflower plants – 9/15 – 10/15
Chard, Swiss – 9/15 – 11/15
Collard/Kale – 9/15 – 11/1
Garlic – 9/1 – 10/15
Lettuce (leaf) – 9/15 – 10/15
Mustard – 9/15 – 10/15
Parsley – 9/15 – 11/1
Peas, English -9/15 -11/15
Radish – 9/15 – 11/15
Spinach – 9/1 – 10/15
Turnips – 9/1 – 11/1
- Water perennials, roses, even annuals deeply now if you want fall bloom. When I say deeply I mean let the water soak around the roots for at least an hour. A light sprinkle at the top of the plant is wasteful and does no good. If you’re going to water, do some good, water deeply.
- Now is a good time to do light pruning and shaping of shrubs. They my not need it again until early next year. One caveat about pruning azaleas; it is all about timing. Pruning much later than the 15th will cut off next season’s bloom for they are now beginning to set buds for next spring.
- Visit your local nursery- sometimes the best deals on plants can be found right now in the fall of year. Nurserymen would rather sell the plants to you than care for them all winter long. And they have grown tired of watering their plants during this drought just as you have. Bargains are to be had! Remember water everything when you plant it and keep it up until this drought breaks. As you shop, live in hope.
- Continue mowing your grass at a minimum of seven day intervals and water as needed remember September is normally a very dry month in East Texas – I don’t look for much relief from the drought this month. Apply Pre-emergent herbicide to the lawn after the middle of the month to control winter weeds.
Of course, one is tempted to despair about all of these things. Why even bother? Despair is the complete absence of hope; despair is death to a gardener. A gardener lives and works in the desire and expectation for life, verdure, fruitfulness and beauty. Despair not.