Jill Severn's Gardening Column

Time to think about fall planting

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It’s time to think about fall planting – not to do it just yet, but time to plan ahead for it.

In the garden, as in so many other areas of human life, planning ahead prevents a lot of frustration and produces better results. But since you probably came to this page for practical advice rather than grandmotherly advice, I’ll get right to it: Your future self will thank you if you do two things this month:

Shop now for spring-flowering bulbs

October is the ideal time for planting daffodils, tulips, crocus and other spring-flowering bulbs, but this year, local nurseries and stores are experiencing supply problems, so unless you show up ASAP, you may be out of luck even for the limited supply and limited selection available. The situation is unpredictable; no one seems to know if or when more will show up. You may be better off shopping online, or planning a field trip to Satsop Bulb Farm, which doesn’t open until October 1.

In the Before Times, I would have recommended shopping early so that you get bulbs that haven’t been sitting around drying out on store shelves for months on end. And I would have said that if you don’t care about having more choices, or about possibly less vigorous bulbs, you could shop late, when bulbs go on sale. This year, those bets are off.

Another hard part of bulb shopping may be resisting the temptation to buy more bulbs than you have room to plant. But if that happens, you can plant bulbs in pots sunk in the soil in your vegetable garden, and set the pots out on your porch or patio in the spring. You can also refrigerate bulbs for a few weeks so they think they’ve lived through winter and then grow them indoors.

Buy garlic now; plant it next month.

Farmers markets have a good selection of garlic right now, so get it while it lasts – and buy some for cooking, some for planting.

There are three main kinds: purple-skinned, white-skinned and elephant garlic. Within each of these three categories there are many named varieties with slightly different characteristics such as time to maturity and variations in taste. The purple and elephant varieties are easier to peel, which in my book is a major plus. The white-skinned variety keeps better. Elephant garlic is much milder. There’s more information about all this online.

Growing garlic is easy: Put single garlic cloves in the ground, about four inches deep. Space them a full foot apart if you want them to get big. Since peeling tiny garlic cloves is a pain in the patoot, this is important. In the spring, when they’ve come up, top dress them with an inch or two of compost and/or manure.

Sometime in late May or early June, watch for the plants to make long curly scapes – garlic’s seed-making structure. Cut them off and eat them. They are mild and delicious cut up in any dish, or sauteed in olive oil. Even if you don’t eat them, cutting them off is believed to save the plant’s energy for growing a larger bulb. (I don’t really know if that’s true, but the garlic plants certainly seem to do fine without their scapes.)

Depending on the variety, they will be ready for harvest in mid-July or later in the summer. You’ll know when they’re ready when the tips of the leaves start to die back. If you get them out of the ground promptly, you can use the space to grow broccoli, chard, or other greens for a fall/winter crop.

That means if you plant garlic this fall, you’re planning a year ahead.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at jill@theJOLTnews.com

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