Fall for a fresh look to your summer garden

The change of season is upon us and this is the week to consider a fresh look for your fall garden.

Local nurseries are gearing up for the autumn planting season, so take stock of the problem areas in your landscape and remember that fall is for planting. The end of summer is when the dry areas of your yard will be at their worst. If you have thirsty rhododendrons dropping their foliage, wilted flowers giving up on life or patches of dry brown lawn that suck up the water then refuses to turn green, it is time for fall renovation with more drought-tolerant plants.

Q: We have a sunny slope in our front yard that is covered with lawn. Each summer the lawn dries out and turns brown. When we try to water it seems every drop just runs right off and ends up draining onto the sidewalk. We are wasting water. What can we plant to replace the grass?

A: Sunny slopes are hostile to grass roots. Don’t fight Mother Nature on this one and replace the lawn in this area with a drought-tolerant groundcover of sedums and succulents. You can dig out the sod and add a few large boulders to hold the slope before planting creeping golden sedum (a.k.a. burro’s tail) or add a stone wall at the base of the slope and then cover the dead lawn with topsoil and then have a wider variety of plants to use on the slope. Native kinninnick, ground-hugging cotoneaster or low-growing junipers, heathers and hebes will all thrive on a sunny slope if they are planted in the fall and given a good start with fresh topsoil.

Q: We have sandy soil and a western exposure and it seems the Japanese maples I have tried to grow in the past lose their leaves and die by summer’s end. I have now killed three of these trees. What can I plant instead that will survive this hot spot and still have purple leaves? We have so many evergreen trees that I would prefer a tree or shrub with red or purple foliage.

A: The purple smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) loves hot, dry locations and thrives in poor or rocky soil. This small tree can be pruned back hard each spring to keep it shrub-sized and to encourage vivid purple foliage or allowed to grow natural. Smoke trees also come with a golden-yellow foliage color (ask for the new “Golden Spirit” smoke tree) and earned their name because of the fluffy panicles of blooms that emerge like whiffs of smoke from the tree each August. Barberries are another tough shrub that come with purple or bright yellow foliage, and for a more natural look check out the “Black Lace” Sambucus or elderberry shrub. This native plant has dark, lacy leaves and deep purple berries that the birds will love.

Q: I am ready to give up on growing vegetables because of the high water bills. Are there any edible plants that don’t require so much water? Our soil is rocky and dries out quickly.

A: Let’s get down to the root of this problem and improve the water-holding ability of your soil. If you add plenty of compost, manure, grass clippings and brown leaves this fall you’ll see a significant improvement in your water bill next summer. Organic matter acts as a sponge to hold water after a rain and then releases it slowly during dry spells. You also can have great soil delivered by Cedar Grove Compost out of Maple Valley and enjoy a bountiful garden with very little water needed. Plants with deep roots like corn, squash and beans and edible perennials like asparagus, rhubarb, blueberries and kiwi are the best at giving back without taking up lots of water. Start fresh by building raised beds on top of your old vegetable garden and planting the beds more intensely so that the veggies shade the soil — and you’ll also use less water. In our climate it is entirely possible to grow a bountiful harvest without paying for more water. Collect the water from your gutters with a rain barrel, mulch your veggies once they sprout and remember that what matters is organic matter.

Send questions for Marianne Binetti to P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. For a personal reply, enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Contact:

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