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Fall gardening tips

Advice on autumn tasks and weathering winter

To some novice gardeners, it may come as news that autumn—with its garden centre sales, moderate temperatures and plentiful rainfall—is a great time to garden.

Before you start readying your patch for winter (see “Seasonal dos and don'ts"), plant perennials in early fall so they'll have time to establish their root systems (bearded and Siberian irises, peonies and lilies do especially well when planted in autumn). However, avoid planting or dividing ornamental grasses; many are warm-season growers that won't establish if planted in fall. Others that also prefer to be planted in the spring include yews, magnolias, katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), mountain ash (Sorbus), dogwood (Cornus), beech (Fagus), tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), Japanese and red maples (Acer palmatum, A. rubrum), and white oaks (Quercus alba).

Another fall ritual is planting bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops (Galanthus), for spring colour. Tuck them into the ground before hard frosts come and choose big bulbs for larger flowers. Plant in well-drained soil at least six weeks before soil freezes; start with smaller ones (such as snowdrops and crocuses), as they don't keep as well, followed by larger species such as daffodils and tulips.

Position bulbs pointed end up, three times deeper than their height (for example, plant a 6.5-centimetre daffodil bulb 20 centimetres deep). Those that don't have an obvious pointed end (or ones you're uncertain about) can be planted sideways; they will right themselves as they grow.

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