Help your garden change into its fall wardrobe

Libba Fairleigh

A perennial problem for fall is what to wear!  It is too cold for this and too warm for that. The same is true for plants – what to plant now and what to dig up now for over-wintering?

The plant containers in the historic district of Black Mountain have an opinion on this difficult subject, they love changing their wardrobe this time of year.

Libba Fairleigh

Depending on the street and the weather, the 42 hand-built containers will sport red, yellow, apricot or pale pink tulips in the spring. They are now dressed for fall with pansies, violas, and other seasonal plants, the tulip stems will appear in late winter to remind us spring is on the way.

In addition to dressing up the containers, members of the Black Mountain Beautification Committee are adding fall color and planting hopes for spring blooms to the 24 garden sites throughout town. Bringing beauty into winter gardening is often a challenge and adding bulbs to a garden in the fall is a way to plant anticipation.

Bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips, and alliums, are known as True Bulbs and have a papery skin or tunic on the outside, much like an onion. The tunic helps protect the bulb from drying out when it’s resting or waiting to be planted. These bulbs must be planted in the fall or early winter, before the ground freezes, to bloom in late winter and spring. They require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the process that causes them to flower.

Botanically the tulip is a perennial, but in our plant zone the tulip is used as more of an annual. The daffodil, however, is a perennial that is liberally planted in the garden sites in town and can be counted on to bloom and reproduce more bulbs throughout the years.

While tubers, rhizomes and corms are also bulbs; to true horticulturists, they are not true bulbs! True bulb or not, they are perfect for the gardens in this area. Tubers have growing points called eyes that are located all over the tuber. This makes it difficult to know how to plant them. A good rule for the green thumb: if in doubt plant sideways. The tuber best known in this area is the dahlia and the perennial challenge for the gardener is, “Do I dig up and over-winter the tubers or do I leave them in the ground?”

Depending on the first frost and the availability of the “shoveler,” I have done both.

“If you do not want to dig, wait until the first frost, cut the plant back, and mulch generously, about 2 inches," said Jessica Klarp, known to many in Black Mountain as the Dahlia Diva. "You should also be aware that the new growth could be bushy as the tuber creates more eyes therefore more stems.”

Just be warned, a hard frost, soggy ground, or critters could wipe out your tubers. But worry not, Klarp donates her dahlia tubers to the Black Mountain Garden Show so you can always rush to the show in May and purchase more. Be early as they sell fast.

Alas, space is limited. Corms and rhizomes will have to be addressed in a future column.

Happy fall gardening.