Fall gardening Q&A
Q: I’m considering starting a compost pile in my yard. What are some of the basics I should know before I get started?
A: Utilizing compost is a great method for creating a humus-rich garden. You can obtain bagged compost from a local retailer or you may be able to go to a nearby horse farm and buy manure, but choosing either of these options will result in the material having to be hauled to your garden site. By making compost at home, however, you can have an endless supply of materials to use whenever needed.
A compost pile can be started at almost any time of the year, but breakdown may be limited in cooler weather. To get started, try using kitchen scraps, including coffee grinds and egg shells. Each season also supplies organic matter that will break down and add valuable nutrients. Weeds that have not gone to seed are a good addition to compost piles, as are prunings and grass clippings. In the fall, leaves can be added, but it helps if they are shredded first. Wood ashes from your fireplace can be added by sprinkling them lightly over the entire area. You can even add shredded paper and cardboard. In fact, with all household and landscaping “waste” that can be added to your pile, it is possible to reduce your household garbage by about 30 percent!
Once you have a well-developed compost system, you’ll continuously have good humus material to add to your plantings, and you’ll be doing wonders for the environment.
For more information on composting, visit www.gacompost.org or www.gacompost.org.
—Kate Wright owns Bloom’n Gardens Landscape, a design/build/maintenance firm. She is a Certified Arborist and Certified Pesticide Applicator who carries a Level 1A certification in Erosion Control.
Q: Both my front and back lawns are almost completely bare, with the exception of a few young dogwoods that my husband and I recently planted. What are some affordable plant options and placement techniques for creating a “fuller” lawn?
A: This dilemma is frequently a challenge for homeowners. Consider a few foundation plantings and a little lawn care and you’ll be on the road to a beautiful yard. First, if you have no existing planting beds, take a garden hose and use it to create bed lines. Keep your lawn mower in mind when doing this so edges aren’t curved too sharply. Also decide how you will use your lawn. Do you have children or animals that may like a larger lawn space, or would a smaller, lower-maintenance lawn area work just as well? Trace along the hoses with turf paint so you can see the final product and remove any grass within the planting bed area.
For plants, I recommend some sturdy shrubs and tough perennials. They’ll get larger, and in some cases spread, as they get older and take up more room. Shrubs and trees can be discounted in the fall and early winter months. Be sure to get a mix of deciduous and evergreens. Viburnum, Osmanthus, Cammelia, Hydrangea, Itea and Chamaecyparis are some of my personal favorites. Perennials also add a nice spark to the landscape. Chrysanthemum, Hellebores, Phlox, ferns, hostas and Salvia are easy to grow and give great bang for the buck.
Put some pine straw under your new plants to tidy up and hold in moisture. To increase the lushness of your lawn, you might want to consider over-seeding. There are some great new fescue-Bermuda blends on the market now, so lawns stay mostly green year round. Just by seeding grass and planting a few foundation plants in a mulched bed, your yard will instantly look fuller.
—Amanda Campbell is manager of display gardens for the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where she has worked for eight years. She also teaches various classes and speaks to gardening and corporate groups.
Q: What are some low-maintenance flowers and bushes I can plant this autumn,and how much day-to-day attention do they require?
A: Fall is the best time for planting most ornamentals in Georgia. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong if you consult the Georgia Gold Medal plant list. Each year, the Georgia Gold Medal Plant Committee selects flowers, shrubs, trees, groundcovers and vines that are well-adapted throughout most of Georgia, readily available and provide seasonal interest. An added bonus is that all are low maintenance once established! Here are a few seasonal options:
Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis) – A shade-tolerant, deer-resistant, flowering evergreen groundcover. Planted in moist, nutrient-rich soil, this plant thrives in a forest setting and in shady borders. This winter bloomer’s flowers can last 8-10 weeks and come in shades of green, cream, magenta, plum and rose.
Lavender Twist® Redbud, (Cercis canadensis “Covey”) – This beautiful specimen tree grows up to 15 feet tall and wide and thrives when planted in moist, well-drained soils with full sun to partial shade. Lavender, pea-like blossoms precede heart-shaped leaves in the summer, and this deciduous tree’s bare branches create a beautiful sculpture in winter.
Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrectii) – This deer-resistant perennial is a traffic stopper in fall, when the foliage turns golden yellow and glows when sunlight strikes it. Drought-tolerant and low maintenance once established, amsonia’s light blue star-like flowers emerge from feathery stems in the spring. Plant in full sun to partial shade.
Pride of Augusta Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium caroliniana ‘Pride of Augusta’) – Adding vertical interest, this vine is a beautifully reliable addition to the garden. Flowering from January through April and sporadically through the year, this yellow double-flowering vine is easy to establish and train on a trellis, fence or wall. It’s also noninvasive and deer resistant. Plant in full sun to partial shade for best results.
Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosor) – Ferns are lovely in the landscape, and this variety is ideal for a shady, moist environment. New fronds unfold as bright, coppery red and then gradually fade to olive green. Although freezing temperatures, ice and snow sometimes burn the foliage, the plant is reliably evergreen in most parts of Georgia.
—Mary Kay Woodworth is executive director of the Metro Atlanta Landscape and Turf Association (MALTA). She is a frequent speaker at area schools, garden clubs, civic organizations and trade shows.
1. Itea 2. Viburnum 3. Cammelia 4. Hydrangea 5. Chamaecyparis 6. Chrysanthemum 7. Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientailis) 8. Phlox
9. Ferns 10. Hostas 11. Salvia 12. Lavender Twist® Redbud, (Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’) 13. Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrectii)
14. Pride of Augusta Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium caroliniana ‘Pride of Augusta’) 15. Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosor)