Growing plants keeps your soil alive and well all year long.
In the flower garden, plant annuals and perennials close together. The tops of perennials die back to the ground in fall and winter, but perennial roots stay active as long as soil temperatures are above freezing.
Add cold-weather annuals such as pansies, sweet William, ornamental cabbage and kale to fading perennials to give life and color to the winter garden. They will also absorb nutrients already in the soil.
Pansies provide a wide range of color and will bloom off and on all winter. Come spring, they will produce an abundance of blooms in late April lasting through May. Sweet William is bi-annual. If you plant it this fall, it will flower well in the coming spring and even more profusely in the spring of 2016.
Caution: Rabbits love pansies. If you have rabbits, scatter mothballs under the leaves. If you have children, wrap the mothballs loosely in aluminum foil and cover them with a thin layer of mulch.
In the vegetable garden, broccoli, cabbage and collard greens, kale and turnips are colorful, hardy and harvestable through much of winter.
A green alternative is a soil-covering crop of winter rye. Winter rye grows a lush green carpet of grass. The perfect scavenger crop, rye grows roots deep in the soil, absorbing nutrients not utilized by the previous plants and protecting groundwater. On the surface, rye prevents your soil from being washed away by heavy rains or winds.
Bulbs Planted Now Bring Spring Rewards
Bulbs planted in October and November go to work now. In fall, they root quickly and absorb residual nutrients from the soil. In spring, they bring the garden to life.
Plant tulip, narcissus or daffodils, hyacinths and crocus bulbs in October and November for April bursts of color.
Plant garlic and long-day onions for spring and summer harvest.
For flowering bulbs, dig deep. Excavate an area 12 inches deep and at least 12 inches wide. Add a four-inch-thick layer of equal parts by volume soil from your hole and good compost. Do not put sand under the bulbs.
Place bulbs at least one inch apart on top of the blended soil with the flat side of the bulb against the wall of the hole. Planting this way will direct leaves to bend outward, giving the planting a more appealing appearance. Place a single bulb in the center. Cover the bulbs with eight inches of blended topsoil and compost.
Don’t use a bulb-planting tool, which makes holes too shallow and compresses the soil along the walls of the hole, especially if the soil contains large amounts of silt or clay.
Blend equal parts compost and topsoil and layer the soil four inches thick across the bottom of the hole before planting. Position the bulbs upright for uniform blooming in the first year. The compost will supply all of the nutrient needs through the first growing season.
Narcissus … daffodils … or jonquils. Whatever you call them, these spring plants are perennials in Southern Maryland gladly blooming year after year. Plant now and you’ll have yellow blooms bursting through melting snow.
Plant your daffodils deep and you can also plant hyacinth, crocus and more seasonal flowers above the daffodil bulbs without fear of damaging the bulbs with digging tools.
Tulips are often an annual crop in Chesapeake gardens, as our warm springs disagree with them.
Unlike daffodils and hyacinths, tulips produce a new mother bulb each year, plus possibly a few daughter bulbs. Because our springs are short — before long, hot summers — tulip foliage does not last long enough to build a new bulb equal to or larger than the original. The Netherlands and more northern states like Michigan enjoy optimum tulip climate: cool springs that last for several weeks.
To get your tulips to flower more than one year, plant them by mid-October in a well-drained location in full sun. Early planting assures that the bulbs develop a large root system before soils cool with the arrival of winter.
If you want your tulip bed to last many years, choose yellow tulips, which, for some unknown reason, perform better and last longer than red, white or pink cultivars.
Caution: Deer love tulips; don’t plant them if deer visit.
Onions and Garlic
Garlic bulbs can be planted from early September until mid November. The plants need time to produce visible foliage before the ground freezes.
Select a location in your garden that will receive maximum sunlight. Garlic planted in partial shade will not produce fully developed bulbs.
Garlic grows best in well-drained soils rich in organic matter. To meet the organic requirements, spread about two inches of compost over the soil and spade or rototill as deeply as possible.
A soil test will tell you your pH and how to achieve the garlic ideal of near 6.5.
Plant each clove, pointed side up, in holes four inches deep and four inches apart in rows 10 inches apart.
Just before the ground freezes in December, mulch with a one-inch layer of compost.
Next spring, water thoroughly at least twice weekly. In May, cut the flowers just below the swollen part of the stem as they form so as to maximize the size of the bulbs.
Just as soon as the leaves start to turn brown in early summer, dig using a forked garden spade to minimize damage to the bulbs.
The short days of fall and winter are beloved by short-day onions. A short-day onion variety will form a bulb only when the days are short. Begin planting any time now so the plants become well established before the ground freezes. To give them the organic matter they want, amend your soil with an inch or two of compost prior to planting.
After the ground freezes in winter, mulch the onions again one to two inches deep to help prevent the frost from pushing the onions out of the ground with repeated freezing and thawing.
As soon as the plants resume growth in the spring, apply a water-soluble fertilizer to stimulate early active growth.
Harvest begins in June.