Rock Garden: Mum’s the Word

By: Patrick McLoughlin


With night temps dipping into the upper 30’s last week, many plants are preparing for the coming winter. Trees in the county are beginning to redden and tarnish with leaves soon to fall, adding to the list of lawn work that needs to be done. This time of year is good for aeration, a practice that allows for enhanced root growth and a healthier lawn in the springtime. Keeping the grass cut around 2½ -3 inches high helps promote growth at the base where new plants can thrive and expand into the lawn. While it is too late to begin seeding new grass effectively there are options for flowers that can satisfy that urge. Chrysanthemums, commonly referred to as mums, are one of the foremost fall bedding flowers, with hardy varieties that last for a few years as well as shorter-lived versions that only last the season. Mums are a dense plant that forms a globose mound of growth that bursts with flowers. They are native to Asia and are prevalent in many cultures both symbolically and as a source for certain chemicals. When visiting your local gardening center to purchase some mums, be sure to choose a plant that has some closed flower buds and to repot the plant shortly after purchase. Mums make for excellent container plants as well as garden plants, and flourish in full sun with a good water supply. Another interesting idea to satisfy a green thumb is to plant some late season ornamentals such as kale or lettuce, which can add a burst of color when temperatures approach freezing levels. These plants can help replenish a tired summer planting that would otherwise decline into the autumn. When the winter comes and runs us indoors, the kale and lettuce can also be cooked and eaten, but needs to be prepared properly given the bitter taste and coarse texture. The colder night temperatures pose a unique challenge when trying to grow plants, but mums, kale, lettuce and even some petunias can survive light frosts and keep looking good through chilly weather. Plants aren’t the only things that grow in abundance in our area. Mushrooms are a common occurrence in the Hudson Valley and many are a sight to see! The cool damp weather that follows these early autumn rains provides perfect conditions for many molds and fungus, so be sure to look for interesting mushrooms along hiking trails and to pick your fruit and veggies while they still look appetizing!

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