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Planning ahead for 2008, fall is a busy time for gardeners

Autumn is traditionally the busiest time of year for gardeners. Garden produce must be harvested and perennials prepared for winter's arrival. Plus, we have to plan ahead for our 2008 gardens.

Autumn is traditionally the busiest time of year for gardeners. Garden produce must be harvested and perennials prepared for winter's arrival. Plus, we have to plan ahead for our 2008 gardens.

As days shorten, temperatures drop and leaves turn to autumn hues, gardeners will be hard at work planting tulips, daffodils and other spring-blooming flower bulbs to brighten spring landscapes. These spring bloomers, which are so easy to grow, are readily available at garden centers, home centers, supermarkets and hardware stores, plus, of course, mail-order gardening firms.

Here's a bulb planting primer provided by the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in Danby, Vt.:

-- Select large, unblemished bulbs for planting. They shouldn't have a strong odor. Most bulbs prefer a sunny spot, though some will tolerate light shade. Also, leaves of deciduous trees won't have their full complement of leaves, so early bloomers won't be impacted them.

-- Avoid planting bulbs in places where water pools. Be sure to work the soil well and mix in compost and peat moss. Tulips, daffodils and other large bulbs are planted about 8 inches deep. Small bulbs, such as crocuses or grape hyacinths, are planted 5 inches deep. Be sure to work the soil several inches deeper than you plant the bulbs, so the roots have plenty of room to spread.


-- Plant spring bulbs in late September or later. It's optimal to get them into the ground six weeks prior to freeze-up. They require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower. They also need time to develop strong roots.

-- The biggest mistake that novice gardeners make is planting bulbs as "single soldiers" either in a line along a walkway or just spottily throughout a bed. To get maximum color impact, cluster your bulbs. Circular groupings or triangle patterns work well. You want an enhanced mass of color.

-- Bone meal is not the best source of phosphorus for the garden. It also is an invitation for dogs, squirrels and other critters to sniff it out and dig up your garden. If squirrels are a problem, place chicken wire over the bed or a few expandable window screens over the bed while the ground settles, removing them once the weather turns cold.

-- Spring bulbs must be planted in the fall, you can't save them till next fall. You must either plant them now or throw them out later when they become soft, mushy or dried out. A final option might be to force the blooms for early bloom, but that's grist for another column.

Late bloomers

While many of our annual and perennial plantings are getting a tired look now, we still have the glads, dahlias and, of course, mums to put some color into our gardens as we go into the final stretch before the first hard frost.

If you didn't plant mums last spring, don't fret. You can purchase blooming mums at local sources and pop them into blank areas in your garden. However, these potted mums will not survive our winters. Winter-hardy mums are planted in spring.

New phloxGarden phlox has long been a favorite for most gardeners. However, it also is prone to powdery mildew. That problem may be resolved with the introduction of Volcano phlox, developed by Anthony Tesselaar USA, Inc., Lawndale, CA 90260.


The stock used to develop this outstanding variety was obtained from gardens in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

The Prairie Gardener received trial plants a year ago. Unfortunately, only one survived - a pink variety with a red "eye." However, it proved an excellent addition to the garden. The crew at the Oak Lake rest stop, just east of Erskine, Minn., also planted a large bed of this same variety. Info: www.tessalaar.com .

Garden tidbits-- An East Grand Forks gardener visited Bergeson Nursery gardens near Fertile, Minn., with friends earlier this month. She reports the gardens are well executed and outstanding, well worth a visit depending on frost conditions. The garden is located three miles south and five miles east of Fertile. There are signs. Information: (218) 945-6988. Or, go to www.bergesonnursery.com .

-- Not all flowers and vegetables are good candidates for seed saving. Most hybrid plants don't breed true from seed. But self-pollinated plants, such as tomatoes, beans and peas are good candidates. Cross-pollinated plants, such as vine crops, can bring surprises. The Prairie Gardener saves seed from dill, annual flowers including morning glory, and winter squash. Pick dry seed and store in marked envelopes for spring planting.

-- With frost possible, keep old blankets, coats and quilts handy for covering tender plants. Plastic sheeting doesn't work as well as it conducts cold. Don't let the plastic touch the foliage. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are especially vulnerable to Jack Frost. Other hardy plants can take some cold. Often the first frost is followed by several weeks of mild weather before a killing frost strikes.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. His column is published every other Saturday. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks, ND 58206-6008. The weekly gardening show, airing most Thursday afternoons on KNOX 1310 (AM), has ended for the season. Thanks to those listeners who called in the past five months.

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