Tuesday, October 10, 2006

New England Gardening in Autumn

Autumn is the time of year when, in New England anyway, we begin cleaning up what is left of our gardens and stowing things away for winter. After a relatively short growing season, compared with the rest of the United States, New Englanders have enjoyed harvesting the plants that were not safe outside until just about Memorial Day. Many New Englanders began their seedlings indoors in late March, while the bitter winter winds were still blowing outside; by the time the last frost had passed, the seedlings were well underway on their growth-life, and had a head start to those who waited longer.

With so much summer daylight in New England, the locals know that although the growing season is short, the days are long, so comparatively, our gardens receive ample amounts of sunlight. Yet, as if nature planned its changes around the calendar, on or about the first full day of autumn, the weather in New England begins to turn colder and within a week or two, the news media begins issuing frost warnings at night. Also in line with the calendar is the changed position of the sun. Where our gardens had received abundant sunshine only weeks before, by the end of September, the sun seems to drop suddenly behind the notoriously tall trees, and the gardens get only a few hours of decent sunlight each day, at best. The shadows become long and the fruit and vegetables seem desperate to be harvested before they wither or freeze on the vine.

Thankfully, nature also seems to send New England a very dry, sunny climate during the autumn months. While spring time and summer time are about a fifty percent mix of dry days and wet days (not to mention, generally cloudy and damp days) the fall gives us all a reprieve, plus, the drying out time allows us to do all the things we need to do to prepare our gardens (and our homes and ourselves) for the coming winter.

So this autumn season has found us New Englanders harvesting the last of our gardens: the tomatoes, green and red peppers, pumpkins, squash, and other goodies. The autumn season has also found us enjoying the last of our annual flowers that we planted back in May. The impatiens, geraniums, marigolds, begonias, and other colorful flowers seem to be brighter than ever, just daring us to uproot them before the first frost. This is also the time when the autumn leaves not only turn their amazing hues, but they fall to the ground on our gardens, yards, driveways and roof tops. Since most of us do not want to find piles of wet, brown leaves on our lawns when the snow melts next April or May, we try to rake them all up now, though sometimes the first snow stops our progress; either way, we do what we can. In autumn, we begin chasing the leaves. It is nearly an impossibility to wait until all the leaves fall from the trees before the raking begins. While the job seems endless, the most efficient way to handle the leaves is to rake a bit each week. That way, when the rains (and premature snows) do come, the leaves will not be left soggy and heavy to move.

This is a good time for New England gardeners to condition the soil in their garden and begin planning their crop for the next growing season. Mark on the calendar when the seeds should be bought, when they should be planted indoors, and when the seedlings can be transferred to the outside garden. Also put on the calendar when the garden should be tilled and prepared for the seedlings.

Lastly, autumn is the time for us to plant all the bulbs we forgot to plant last fall. Most gardening shops have many types of bulbs now, which will bring pretty spring flowers: daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and the like. If you are planting in New England, remember to plant the bulbs at the depth recommended on the packaging, and be sure to cover the topsoil with a layer of mulch to protect the bulb from harsh freezes. That way, come April and May, the colorful flowers in your yard and garden will erase all memories of the harsh, New England winter.

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