Thankfully, it looks like today may be the last day of unseasonably hot temperatures for us here in Chicagoland. Although fall officially began last Friday, the thermometer told a different story. And while heat we’ve had plenty, rainfall is another matter. The landscape is dry, dry, dry!
If you haven’t already, get those hoses out and start watering. Focus first on newly-planted trees, shrubs and perennials. They have not had time to stretch their roots sufficiently into the surrounding soil, and they lose moisture through their leaves faster than their roots can replenish it. A two- to three-inch layer of mulch around newly-installed plants will encourage roots to continue growing well in fall with its warm days, cool nights and, hopefully, soaking rains.
Next, turn your attention to evergreens, both needled and broadleaf types. Without sufficient water now and through the fall, winter burn may result when their roots are unable to pull enough water from frozen soil. With proper watering, evergreens including yews, spruces, pines, boxwood, rhododendrons and hollies thrive, contributing green to our winter landscapes for many years to come.
Don’t forget shallow-rooted shrubs like hydrangeas, lilacs and viburnums and perennials like pincushion flowers (Scabiosa), coral bells (Heuchera), foam flowers (Tiarella) and foamy bells (Heucherella). Their roots don’t reach as far down into the soil and become drought stressed sooner than other plants.
When watering, make sure to water deeply. A thorough watering every week or two is better than several shallow applications of water. Concentrate water within the drip line of trees and shrubs and around the base of perennials.
Soaker hoses are ideal to evenly distribute water in an area, but a garden hose running slowly can be moved periodically around the root zone of plants. To check the depth water is percolating into the soil, use a trowel to dig about six inches deep. If it is moist all the way down, watering is sufficient. If an overhead sprinkler is utilized for watering, set a container in the garden. When it is filled between one and two inches, depending on the soil type, watering is adequate.
As we enjoy the change from summer to fall, plants are beginning to prepare for winter. Shorter days and cooler temperatures signal trees and shrubs it’s time to color their leaves and then drop them. Frost puts an end to many perennials. Plants begin to store energy in their roots to support them through winter.
If Mother Nature does not turn on her spigots, we must turn on ours. In addition, add organic matter to the soil whenever possible and add a layer of mulch to conserve soil moisture. Plants wake up ready to grow with more vigor in spring if they are not stressed when they go dormant.
Let’s make sure our plants get everything they need before we put them to bed for the winter. Garden with me!