The start of November is the time to sneak in some fall gardening chores before the ground freezes. Continue to pull the weeds and mow the lawn and if you haven’t used a slow-release fall and winter lawn food yet, then let me nag you. Remember that autumn is the most important time of the year to fertilize the lawn in western Washington.
This is also your last chance to spread composted manure or your own compost on top of the vegetable garden before the ground freezes. You can also add a thin layer of topsoil, compost or manure to the lawn and then reseed right over the old grass. If you have been meaning to move peonies, dig in now because peonies are picky about moving day. They prefer to undergo the transplant operation in the fall as the nights grow longer. Transplanting in the fall keeps plants asleep under the anesthetic of shorter days so they’ll be less likely to suffer after the move and adapt quickly to their new location in the spring.
Q. My peonies no longer bloom and I think it is because they are now in the shade most of the time as my trees have grown larger. I am going to transplant them now but how much sun do peonies need to bloom? I have several places that I could move them to.
A. Peonies are not picky about how much sun, water or even how great of soil they are given. Instead, peonies are most persnickety about how deep you plant them and what time of year you move them. Do not plant peonies too deep or they will refuse to bloom. Even an inch or two of mulch on top of the growth bud will stop peonies from budding. Peonies like at least a half-day of sun and do best if moved in the fall (like now), but don’t worry about dividing up the roots. Unlike most perennials peonies don’t require dividing and are perfectly happy growing in the same spot for decades, as long as you don’t bury them too deep.
Q. How and when do I prune my hydrangeas? One neighbor prunes in spring and another is pruning her tall hydrangeas right now; this is so confusing. Some years I get hydrangea flowers and some years I don’t. I must prune them as they grow too large for my small yard.
A. Don’t worry, hydrangeas are happy with several ways to keep them under control. You can prune now to shorten the longest branches that just finished blooming. These branches will not bloom next summer as most hydrangeas flower on two-year-old wood.
You can also wait and leave the dried blossoms to sit on the plants all winter. Then shorten these by one-third in early spring, when you see the daffodils in bloom. Or you can replace your giant hydrangeas with a more dwarf or compact variety. You may also want to replace your tall hydrangeas with the Endless Summer hydrangeas that flower on new wood so they’ll bloom no matter what time of year you get snippy with them.
Q. My geraniums are still blooming and I saw you on the news uprooting a geranium and telling people to hang them upside down to overwinter them. Where are you supposed to hang the geraniums once you pull them from the ground? What about soil around the roots? I would like to try and save my geraniums and replant them in the spring.
A. Stringing up geranium plants now is an easy way to save them from the frost. This only works on plants that are not yet frostbitten or soft and mushy. Just pull the plants right out of the ground or container and shake off most of the soil that clings to the roots. Now tie string around the base of the plant and use this to loop over the rafters of a garden shed or a nail in the wall of a cold basement, garage or storage unit. You need a place that is cold but not freezing, humid but not too damp. That’s it. If we have a typical, mild winter, the geraniums will go to sleep and wake up in April as the weather begins to warm. This is when you cut back the tops of the geraniums to 8-inch stumps and repot the bare roots into fresh soil. Keep these newly-potted plants indoors until mid-May but place the pots in a bright window. Overwintering geraniums without the soil keeps them from rotting but you do run the risk of the exposed roots freezing or drying out. Still, the odds are in your favor that some will survive. Give it a try and let us all know how your hanging geraniums survive.
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For answers to gardening questions, write to Marianne Binetti at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply.
For more gardening information, she can be reached at her website, www.binettigarden.com.
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column owned by Marianne Binetti.