Monday, September 20, 2010

Almost a morning person

 Sophia napping on my yard work jacket

It's taken a couple weeks, but I'm finally getting into the swing of being up early with the kids for school.  It's a good change, for all of us, to be up earlier, but I knew it would take some getting used to.  I'm starting to really enjoy the early morning routine, the bright dawn light streaming in through our kitchen windows, and the sense that I have extra time all day, even though that's not really the case since I go to bed earlier now as well.

Fall is really here now, even though the equinox isn't until tomorrow night.  Many of the trees are starting to show some fall color, and it's settled into a nice temperature swing from cool nights to warmer days (right now in the 40s to low 50s at night, 60s to low 70s during the day).  This really is my favorite time of the year, weather-wise.  My husband and I have been doing some yard work, spreading topsoil on the area of our back yard that he solarized earlier this summer.  We'll be rolling and seeding next week, and he wants to overseed and aerate the front and side yard as well soon after that.  I'm not so much lawn-oriented, but I have some yard tasks of my own to tend to:  edging a couple of the flower beds where the grass is encroaching, and cutting back perennials and pulling annuals after the first hard frost (which we haven't had yet, but it can't be long now).  And, of course, planting bulbs - my favorite fall "chore."

I need to get the daffodils planted soon - generally it's recommended that they be planted here in the Northeast by the end of September.  If I get mine in the ground by mid- October, they always do fine.  Tulips can be planted any time until the ground freezes.  In some years I've been known to plant last-minute tulip bargain purchases in December.  Crocuses are pretty forgiving too - any time by December seems to work for them.  I also want to plant some asiatic lilies, and I try to get them in the ground by mid-October at the latest, and bury them a little deeper than the package recommends - 6-7" deep is good here in the Northeast.

 Tulip 'Sweetheart,' one of my favorites & on my "Must Buy" list for this fall

At least in our new home we don't have a plague of squirrels to dig up all the bulbs as soon as I plant them - at our old house I had to keep pieces of galvanized wire fencing on hand to lay over newly planted areas to deter the rotten rodents.  I'd leave the wire down for a couple weeks (daffodils, which the rodents don't eat but enthusiastically dig up), to a month (crocuses and lilies, until the ground freezes), to all winter and remove in the spring (tulips, which are rodent candy).  I've also found that it's better to err on the side of burying bulbs a little too deep than a little too shallow.

Although irises aren't true bulbs, they should be planted now as well.  With them, though, you DON'T want to bury the rhizomes.  Irises are susceptible to rot if they're buried, or planted in a location that's too moist.  They can handle a lot of drought and are really tough once established.  The rhizome should rest at the soil's surface, and the roots should be buried firmly.  Sometimes the remnant foliage on top will cause them to want to lean or fall over.  In that case, my trick is to take a couple 8" sticks or pieces of bamboo staking and form an X over the rhizome, pinning it to the ground firmly.  This quick fix can be removed in the spring, once the iris has formed its own new roots.  Irises are one of my absolute favorite spring flowers, especially the old-fashioned "heirloom" ones.  (Generally an "heirloom" iris is one that is over 25 years old - but I find that definition to be too liberal.  Irises have been bred for well over 100 years, and just as in fashion, gardening styles change and affect which plants are bred and which plant characteristics are valued and selected.  Irises bred before about 1965 tend to have simpler flowers, with a more graceful form; irises bred later gradually acquired more extreme ruffling and stiff form, and brighter color combinations became more common.  Modern irises are often quite flamboyant.)

On the left is the iris 'Liaison,' introduced in 1986, and on the right is the iris 'Indian Chief,' from 1929.  The difference in their forms is striking.