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COLUMN: Fall garden can be just as impressive as summer

Late-season bloomers can be stunning, and autumn is the right time for spring preparation.
rob sproule mug CC
Columnist Rob Sproule

Many people quickly assume that fall is when the gardening season starts to wind down, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are so many underappreciated late-season bloomers that are just as impressive as our summer annuals, plus loads of tasty cold-hardy vegetables that can’t quite hack the heat of our summers. You can also get into prepping your spring garden by planting bulbs that will remain dormant over winter, springing up from the soil as soon as the snow begins to melt.

While spring is also a viable time to plant some trees and shrubs, sometimes that summer heat sneaks up on them pretty quickly. Fall-planted trees and shrubs, provided they are hardy to Zone 3A, are more likely to make it through the winter — especially if you wrap them up in burlap for some extra insulation.

When planting your trees and shrubs, look at the root ball and try to dig a hole that’s twice as deep and twice as wide. Gently place the plant in the hole, keeping it upright, and carefully add the soil back in, lightly packing it down. Water generously each day for the next two weeks to help jump start root growth. Consider adding a layer of mulch over the soil surface, leaving a small gap between the mulch and any stems or trunks.

Broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce greens, radishes, and most other cruciferous vegetables love fall just as much as we do. If you can get some starter plants in the ground in September, you should have a harvest ready before the end of the season. It’s a good idea to plant them in containers in case an early snowfall forces your operation indoors. Using protective coverings at night will also help prevent frost damage later in the season.

Pre-seeding around late October to early November for a spring harvest is also an option, and the cold overwintering period can actually make things taste better! Salad greens such as spinach, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, collard greens, and arugula are our favourites for fall pre-seeding. Root vegetables such as turnip, rutabaga, beets, and kohlrabi also do well when pre-seeded, as well as garlic, green onions, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Insulate them with a layer of mulch, and once the snow melts, your vegetable garden will suddenly be booming.

After an ice-cold Alberta winter, there are few things more uplifting than the first sight of greenery poking up from the soil. Crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops, tulips, squills, and irises are all flowering bulbs you can plant in the fall. Pick a spot in the garden with lots of direct sunlight and incorporate some bulb food into the soil. Bury your bulbs with the pointed side up, about five to seven centimetres deep. More delicate bulbs such as daffodils should be buried a bit deeper, about 15 centimetres. Water well, apply mulch, and you’ll thank yourself when the spring show arrives.

Rob Sproule is co-owner of St. Albert’s local greenhouse, Salisbury at Enjoy.