Annuals and Perenials
Perennials planted in early fall have time to take root before the first frost hits. And there are plenty of cool-hardy annuals that can be put in flower beds to create a striking autumn show.

CLEAN UP BEDS: Spent annuals like marigolds and geraniums should be pulled from their beds, while most perennials that have finished blooming — including black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, and astilbe — should be cut back to the ground. This gives the landscape a neater appearance, saves you the trouble of pruning in the slushy spring, and allows the plants to focus their energy on root growth. "But I leave certain plants unpruned to provide visual interest for winter," says Roger. "Perovskia, sedum, and plumey ornamental grasses look interesting when they get some ice or snow on them."

PLANT: Since most homeowners buy their plants in the spring, fall shopping means that nursery staff will have more time to assist you and that deliveries will happen quickly. "Nurseries dig up fresh stock in the fall," says Roger, so there should be plenty of healthy full-priced plants to choose from, including fall varieties of annuals like dianthus, snapdragons, poinsettias, calendula, and ornamental cabbage. You may also find discount prices on some plants, but be wary. "I would inspect anything that"s on sale to make sure it"s healthy and strong and that next year"s buds are set," says Roger. (Many stores, incidentally, don"t provide a warranty for marked-down items.) After putting in the plants, feed them with a balanced fertilizer containing mycorrhizal fungi, which help roots absorb nutrients. Then mulch over the roots with compost, finely ground pine bark, or ground leaves to protect them from frost, which can pop new plants right out of the ground.

PUT IN SPRING BULBS: Crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and other traditional harbingers of spring must be planted in the fall because they need winter"s chill to trigger their growth. Many bulbs come in early, middle, and late-blooming varieties, says Roger. "So rather than buying a hundred of one kind, buy 30 of each, and you"ll get six weeks of flowers instead of just two." Note that each type of bulb must be planted at a specific depth. After digging a hole, fill the bottom with a mixture of soil and a small amount of 5-10-5 or 10-6-4 fertilizer — too much can burn the roots. Then set the bulbs in place, cover with more soil, and plant over with fall annuals. Come spring, photograph the bulbs in flower, so you"ll know what color bulbs to add and where to place them when planting the garden next fall.
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