Prime time for planting projects
Now that Labor Day 2021 is in the books, it’s a good time to get busy on any planting projects on your to-do list.
September through mid-October is one of Pennsylvania’s two best time frames for planting almost all trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, and evergreens. (Early to mid-spring is the other.)
That timing typically brings cooling temperatures and more plentiful rain, both of which are more amenable to new plants than the heat and dry soil that’s typical of most summers.
In early fall, the soil is still warm enough for good root growth, but the air temperatures are cooler, the sunlight is less intense, and rainfall is often more “showery” as opposed to the thunderstorm dumpings of summer.
Fall-planted plants also lose less moisture through their leaves than in summer (lowering water demands), and bugs and weeds aren’t as bad either.
A bonus is that a lot of plants go on sale as the season winds down.
Only a few species would rather be planted in spring. Those are mostly plants that are borderline hardy or prone to winter windburn, such as crape myrtle, cherry laurel, nandina, Southern magnolias, camellias, variegated hollies, mahonia, falseholly (Osmanthus), Italian blue cypress, and vitex.
Keep the soil around fall-planted plants consistently damp until the ground freezes, and aim to get your plantings done by the end of October. After then, the soil starts cooling enough most years that root growth slows.
Research has shown that plants establish best when they have at least six weeks to “root in” before the ground freezes.
Before digging a new bed (especially when using power equipment), find out where your buried utility lines are. Gas and electrical lines are usually deeper than shovel or tiller depth, but cable and computer lines might only be a few inches down.
Call Pennsylvania One Call at 811 or 800-242-1776 to have lines located. Or visit online at www.pa1call.org/PA811/Public. It’s a free service for Pennsylvania homeowners doing their own work. (Note that you may need to call utilities directly if you deal with any not covered by the Pennsylvania One Call network.)
“Backyard Best Bet” native plants
If adding more native plants (a top gardening trend) is one of your fall planting projects, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s website has an excellent (and free) list of good native plant choices for Pennsylvania yards as well as a list of growers that specialize in native plants.
DCNR also produced a “Backyard Best Bets” tip-sheet series that names some of the best native plants in four different yard scenarios, including handy charts on each plant’s traits, such as size, bloom time, flower and fruit colors, deer-resistance, colorful fall foliage, fragrance, and more.
Some other good resources if you’re trying to beef up on native plants:
- The Pennsylvania Native Plant Society, which includes info on invasive plants, where to buy native plants, and links to many other native-plant resources.
- Manada Conservancy, a Dauphin County land trust that has a series of landscaping guides with suggested native plants for 14 different scenarios.
- Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, Pennsylvania’s “living museum” of native plants and a resource for selecting and planting best natives.
- Penn State Extension, which features a list of best native perennials for Pennsylvania yards based on research done in Lancaster County.
- Mt. Cuba Center, a Delaware public garden specializing in native plants and offering a range of virtual and in-person classes on native-plant topics.
- Cumberland County Master Gardener Susan Skender’s two lists of perennials and woody plants that are local to the six counties in central Pennsylvania.
- And four good native-plant books: Dr. Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home,” Dr. Allan Armitage’s “Native Plants for North American Gardens,” Donald Leopold’s “Native Plants of the Northeast,” and Thomas Rainier and Claudia West’s “Planting in a Post-Wild World.”
Allergic gardener tips
Late summer is so-called “hay-fever season,” when a lot of people start sneezing before they take two steps outside.
The plant that gets the lion’s share of blame is goldenrod – that tall, yellow-blooming native flower that’s often seen massed along roadsides and in meadows.
While goldenrod’s pollen can cause allergic reactions in sensitive people, you might be surprised to learn that goldenrod actually ranks near the middle of the sneeze-inducing pack so far as flowers go.
By far a more potent September allergen is ragweed, another North American flower that happens to bloom around the same time as goldenrod but isn’t nearly as showy and noticeable.
The pollen of turfgrass going to seed also is a common hay-fever producer, as are some of the other flowers (both wild and planted) that bloom in late summer.
The bottom line is that if you’re allergic to any of the pollen types floating around this time of year, you’re vulnerable.
Non-gardeners and couch potatoes can pretty much eliminate reactions by staying inside with the windows closed and the AC on.
But for gardeners and other outdoor-leaning folks, there are a few other strategies besides antihistamines and immunotherapy shots.
Thomas Ogren, author the “The Allergy-Fighting Garden” (Ten Speed Press, 2015, $22.99 paperback) offers these tips on gardening with allergies:
- If you haven’t had enough of mask-wearing lately, wear a mask to filter pollen when cutting grass or working outside.
- Try to do your outside work in the middle of the day when pollen counts are normally lowest.
- Prune the worst-offender flowering trees and shrubs just before they bloom to reduce pollen – or consider removing them altogether. (Ogren’s “Allergy-Free Gardening” book scores plants on their allergy-producing potential.)
- Cut grass later in the day since most grasses release most of their pollen overnight between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m.
- Consider replacing lawn with low-allergy groundcovers such as liriope, barrenwort, candytuft, creeping sedum, sweet woodruff or vinca.
- Shower after coming inside, and wash your clothes to remove any pollen brought inside.
- Don’t hang wet clothes outside to dry overnight or early in the morning. This is when they’re most likely to attract pollen that you then take inside.
- More when-to-do-what tips: George’s “Pennsylvania Month-by-Month Gardening” book