By Cynthia Stegman —
As fall comes to New York, it is important to prep your garden and set it up for success for the following year. When it comes to adding more specimens to your garden, there are some easy and free options!
Planting native bulbs, tubers and rhizomes in the fall can help get a head start on next year’s blooms. If you already have growing plants, their pale, underground sections of can be divided up and used to spread new specimens as the plant goes into dormancy following the summer and reawakens when the following spring comes.
By spending the winter in the soil, these plants more easily settle their roots and gather extra energy, and as most of the plant will be dormant with the cooler weather, there is less stress, increasing their odds of survival. They also benefit from a boost in moisture and nutrition as the weather warms, giving them their best chance at growing big and beautiful!
Skip the bulk bags of daffodils, and instead, opt for a native species for your garden. Some choices that are native to the Northeast include bulbs in the Lily family, such as Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense), Canada Lily (Lilium canadense), Turk’s-Cap Lily (Lilium superbum), and finally, a great option for shady gardens, Prairie Lily (Lilium philadelphicum). Another great choice for shady gardens is Trillium grandiflorum, a short, showy plant that shows off a single, three-petaled flower — but, as a favorite snack of white-tailed deer, this should be planted in secured and fenced gardens to avoid being on the buffet line!
While planting native varieties is ideal, sometimes other species are needed to fill important roles that are otherwise left unfulfilled in our habitat. While Columbian Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum) is native to the Midwestern US, their early bloom time in New York feeds early season bumblebees, hawkmoths and hummingbirds that struggle to find food sources at that time of year. The dainty bulbs for Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii), while native to Europe, will be one of the earliest spring bloomers and pollinator attractors, and is both deer and rodent resistant. If a non-native plant does not compete with a native that would serve the same purpose, it may be worth considering.
Before planting, plan out your garden: where will these new specimens fit in, and will they be competing for space and light with other plants in the spring or summer? Ensure there is enough room for your new plant to grow, and ideally pick a space at least three feet from the edge of other plantings. Using your hand or the flat side of the shovel, scrape away the top layer of dirt and debris until you see the unbroken dirt below. Refer to your plant’s specific instructions for how deep the bulb or rhizome should be planted, and dig a hole so that the bulb ultimately settles around that depth. Tubers and rhizomes come with long, thin roots, and the final depth should take these into account. Place the bulb/tuber/rhizome gently in the hole, and fill the dirt back in, taking care to firmly pat but not compact the dirt. Briefly water your new friend afterwards, but do not soak it: as these are about to enter into full dormancy with the cold weather, they are prone to rot and overwatering, and it is better to err on the side of underwatering. They will receive plenty of water in the spring, when they need it before bursting upwards.
Another option to grow your garden can be to overwinter plant cuttings indoors. Many woody bushes, trees, and even flowers can be “cloned” by cutting a part of the branch, and leaving it in soil or water to grow roots. These cuttings are exact replicas of their “parent” plant, so there is no worry that a new or different variety is introduced in your garden.
Viburnum is a family of shade-tolerant shrubs or small trees, that are not only the host plant for the Spring Azure butterfly, but also have berries during the winter that feed mammals and birds. Many species of viburnum take extremely well to propagation by cutting, as their branches readily form new roots as they dangle close to the ground. Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) also has edible twigs and leaves that browsing animals like to munch on, and Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) is another great specimen and one of the earliest blooming native viburnum. Other options for cuttings to try include Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), which not only has berries for food but also serves as a home for birds and small animals during the winter, and Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which is the host plant for the Eastern Swallowtail and Spicebush Swallowtail and attracts a variety of bees and and other butterflies; for the humans, the twigs and leaves can even be used to make an herbal tea!
To take a cutting from an established plant, use a clean, sharp knife or cutting tool to snip about 8 inches of a branch with no more than a few leaves on it, and place the stem in a tall, clean cup with a few inches of water in a sunny windowsill; a well-drained soil can also be used instead of water, but care should be taken to keep the soil damp. Rooting hormone powder can also be used to help this part of the process, and can be purchased cheaply.
The success of cuttings taken in the Fall vary from plant to plant, but can make a fun and decorative winter project, can add to your own gardening knowledge as you research plants, and can be very satisfying as those first roots become visible in the clear water.
To find native plants, it is best to use local vendors to ensure they have a compatible ecotype. Some options near here include Stone Crop gardens, and Hilltop Hanover farm.