Why Wait for Fall

By Cheryl Conklin

I first discovered fall planting about a decade ago. How? Springtime is too busy to plant in my own garden while keeping up with client demands. Summer? Well, it’s just too darned hot for both the planter and the newly planted.

Great things happen after the first of August, however.

First, nights get longer and generally cooler. This means that even if the day is hot, there’s often a respite between dusk and dawn — for garden and gardener alike. Longer, cooler nights help keep moisture in plants and soil. Stress levels go down.

Near the beginning of September, nights have become long enough to trigger changes in plant processes. What we notice takes place above ground — greatly diminished growth, the yellowing of some leaves, and a mellowing and quieting of most blooming activity. What we can’t see: Below the surface, roots are growing.

Growing underground in September, this new installation will start filling in next spring.

The convergence of lower overall stress and root growth make for excellent planting conditions. There is less opportunity for transplant shock. Even better, there is a good chance the new plant will root out in the still-warm soil creating a stronger plant next spring.

Another advantage of fall planting is cost saving. Garden centers regularly offer great bargains to clear their shelves. And, because it’s cooler you won’t be spending as much time and money keeping new plants hydrated.

Most plants benefit from dividing, transplanting, and planting in the early fall — from mid-August to the Autumnal equinox. This includes irises, daylilies, perennials, ornamental grasses, deciduous and evergreen shrubs, and small trees. Some sources say that grasses and evergreens do best if planted in the spring, but I can’t say I’ve found that to be true. Trees may also do quite well if planted after they’ve dropped their leaves in October.

You’ll want to get all your planting done by October. Not that all your plants will turn into pumpkins after October 1. It’s just you’ll want time to put in bulbs for spring.

Speaking of bulbs: Have  you placed your orders?

When It’s Too Darned Hot: Keeping Your Cool

By Cheryl Conklin

This article first appeared in The Colorado Gardener. Daintily edited and with a few additions, I post it here.

Sea Foam Artemisia, Salvia pachyphila, Marubium rotundifolia, Russian sage, Sempervivum, Miscanthus, globe blue spruce, and Echinacea Art’s Pride thriving through the heat.

Some like it hot. Some would rather endure the dentist’s drill than a heat-wave. At least the dentist’s office is air conditioned, right?

Wherever you fall on the heat-loving spectrum, high temperatures are a force to be reckoned with. Colorado’s heat is usually delivered without humidity, reducing discomfort for most of us. Even so, our personal humidity is rapidly wicked away, increasing our risk of dehydration, especially when working up a sweat in the garden.

Dehydration isn’t our only risk. It’s possible to experience heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion comes about as blood goes out to our skin, away from our brains, muscles and other organs, interfering with physical strength and mental capacity. Everyone is at risk of heat exhaustion, and the risk increases for those taking antihistamines, chronic alcoholics, the very old and very young, the obese, and those with compromised immune systems.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion are many. Not everyone will experience the same ones. In broiling weather, be on the lookout for fatigue, nausea, headaches, excessive thirst, muscle aches and/or cramps, weakness, confusion, anxiety, drenching sweats with cold/clammy skin, slowed or weakened heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, and agitation.

Heat stroke, which is quite serious, can occur without prior heat exhaustion symptoms. You or a companion might experience nausea and vomiting; skin that is flushed, hot, and dry; rapid heart rate; decreased sweating and/or urination; shortness of breath; confusion, delirium, or loss of consciousness; and/or convulsions.

Fortunately, there are beaucoups strategies for avoiding these serious and frightening symptoms.

Tops: When possible, avoid the heat. Work outside in the early morning or with a headlamp after the sun has found a mountain to hide behind.

If the only time in your schedule for gardening falls between 9 and blistering 6, there is still a lot you can do.

Let’s start with clothing. Yes, wear some. Keeping the sun from directly hitting your skin is a good idea. Choose styles that are loose fitting and open at the neck. Even long sleeves and pants aren’t a bad idea. Find fabrics made of natural fibers, like cotton and linen, that are both lightweight and breathable. Forget black, no matter how slim you think it makes you look. Pick out lighter colors.

Wear a hat. Something broadly brimmed that shades your neck, ears, and face. Never fail.

Don’t make me come after you. Wear a hat!

You say you need to show skin? Then slather on sunscreen. There are controversies about the stuff, so go as natural as you can. Any way you can manage to keep your skin from burning has at least some merit, and will keep you feeling cooler.

Now, how about something to drink? The best thing, you might guess, is pure, cool water. Plenty of it. Drink it preventively. By the time you actually feel thirsty, you may already be verging on dehydration. Think you’re hungry? Drink first. Thirst can be mistaken as hunger. If you’re like W.C. Fields and won’t drink water because of what fish do in it, or you just need a little something different, try cooled herbal teas, salty lemonade, or lime squeezed into coconut water. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and overly sugared slurps… at least until later, when you’re celebrating how good you were to yourself outside in the heat.

So, now, you’re properly dressed and gulping down the good stuff, but you’d like some more relief. You can have some real fun with this. Run through the sprinkler. Hand someone a hose and tell them to take their best shot. Or, if one is handy, jump in a pool. Getting thoroughly wet can actually bring down your core temperature a bit and keep you cool for quite a while, especially while your clothes dry.

More demure choices: Carry a spray bottle and mist yourself. Pre-chilled wraps or wet bandanas on your neck or in your hat can help. What you want to do is target your pulse-points: your wrists, neck, temples, and the backs of your knees, and cool them with either evaporation or cold gel-packs.

Should you find yourself beat by the heat anyway, there’s no shame in retreating. Knock off early, and go to the movies.

Edward T. Handsome has chilling down to a science.

Cooling off at home can be quite delicious. Take a tepid shower or soak in an equally tepid tub and lace the water with baking soda. After lightly toweling off and forgetting the blow-drier, pull on a breezy outfit. Head for a cool spot with comfy furniture. Put your feet up to improve circulation. Turn on a fan – unless there’s a nice-looking and scantily clad someone to billow ostrich feathers over you. Down a lovely tumbler of some non-alcoholic beverage. Take a spoon to a big chunk of watermelon. Or crunch through a cucumber. When you’re done with your treat, put a cool washcloth over your eyes, and listen to some great music. There’s a reason it’s called “chilling”.

After an hour, if you’re still wiped out, seeking medical advice isn’t out of the question.

If you’re feeling refreshed and don’t want to kill the chill by cooking, here’s a delicious cold soup recipe.

Visualize Whirled Peas

  • 2 C fresh peas (1 pkg frozen, mostly thawed)
  • 1/2 C (loosely filled) chives
  • 1 C robust greens (arugula, mustard, etc)
  • a few leaflets each parsley, lovage, basil, &/or mint
  • 1 C yogurt
  • 2 C chilled veg broth

Place all ingredients in a blender and whirl til creamy. Then place in fridge to gaurantee chill.

Before serving, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with something colorful — thin slices of red or yellow bell pepper, chopped radish, carrot curls, paprika…

Makes 2 meal-sized or 4 side servings.