So out of the kitchen and back to the garden. The fall vegetable seeds have been started. What other tending can be done? Think bulbs. Consider fruit and ornamentals trees. Also, a little clean up is in order, which includes mulching for stem and root insulation. Annuals should be cut back to prevent legginess and to eek a little more life out of them. My neighbor's impatiens definitely are begging for some of this TLC, but I'm too shy to let him know. Lets just say it took all the willpower I could muster to look the other way as I sat in a rocking chair on his patio several weekends ago. Those dainty little flowers had the same proportions of all the ladies in ZZ Top songs: heavy growth on top and the long, sinuous stems below. While some may like these features on women, there is something much more attractive about a bushy and full-figured annual. Cut your them back a third: the under growth will happily fill in the voids and the plant will remain attractive into the first frost. Deadheading is also in order. Pruning spent blooms isn't the only way to offer a haircut to perennials, vines, and bushes. Towards the end of this month I will trim the figs, roses, and perennial herbs. Once again, this prevents legginess while offering a chance for new growth. Remember: don't prune everything. Hydrangeas need this year's growth for their flowers next year. While pruning can be a daunting task, remember that during the fall plants are storing up nutrients in their root system for the winter. The early signs of dormancy are a great reminder to prepare your plants for winter sleep. Your deciduous babies will lose their leaves soon, so the lack of green won't affect the plant's livelihood.
Don't forget a hefty blanket of mulch to kindly and safely tuck them in. Preferences vary for mulch but nature readily hands it out as leaves fall from trees. Rake them to where your planning to mulch, by winter's end they will have composted nicely, giving the plants a little nutrient boost. There are also types of bark mulch for purchase, hay, pine needles, and plastic covers. All of these will hold some moisture, prevent weeds from popping up, and give the plant a little extra warmth. Here in zone 7b/8, I will be giving my eucalyptus tree and banana trees a hefty amount of mulch. This climate zone is right on the cusp of acceptable temperatures, but part of my intent in buying them was to get them established outside before the winter. Bananas will survive here, but I have 2 fruiting varieties which have less of a chance of survival. I'm gearing up for the fight, getting prepared, and mulling over the use of burlap to wrap around the trunks. Make sure you know the needs of your plants before the frost hits; you'll be much happier in the long run.Fruit trees are on the horizon. Charlie wants several apple trees, I want plums, peaches, apples and another chesnut. The apples are a definite and the chesnut is number 2 in line. We have one in the yard my grandmother planted. We need two for nut production. As it is, the single tree will produce a handful of snack worthy nuts, but I think the production would be increased dramatically with another tree to help the fertilization task. You really can't blame them for the want of company, now can you? So you're out there digging and planting trees. Go ahead and scout out the areas for planting fall bulbs. Anything in the narcissus family will thrive around here, it seems. And they have their well-known ego for a reason: easy care and glorious blooms. We have a variety of daffodils all over the yard, thanks again to MeMa, my grandmom. They grow and divide readily, never fail to impress, and are a cheerful sign of early spring. Tulips are another bulb to check into. Just about a year ago C took it upon himself to plant a patch of 50 solid red tulips. Spring came and they were incredible. We aren't sure they'll repeat the show, but only time will tell. The list of fall bulbs abounds, check your cooperative extension site for recommended varieties. What an incredible reward for such a minimal investment of time and resources. You'll have your blooms coming up, often with a $6 investment for the bag of bulbs, while your neighbors scour nurseries for tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses blooming in pots. They'll dish out $6 a plant and still have to go home and do much more intensive digging. You and me? We'll be sitting back leafing through the seed catalogs, marking unusual heirloom tomatoes to try, and expanding the vegetable garden to fit them all. Oh yeah, we'll also be trimming gorgeous branches of fruit blossoms and picking fresh flowers for a vase on the mantle.

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