By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener
The frost has made its first appearance marking the end of the summer growing season. Before plunging headlong into bulb planting, I find it valuable to use this time to take stock of the past season as it serves to help me plan for next year (although I must admit I have already submitted a lengthy list of dahlia tubers for next spring). I find it helpful to keep a gardening journal throughout the year for reference purposes and it becomes an important part of this process. There are many entries especially in spring when I am propagating, not so much in the summer but I always do a fall summary. This written record has served me well over the past few years. I also take this opportunity to look back over the photos I took throughout the season. They sometime remind me of just how much I enjoyed a certain plant. One plant whose value seems to fade from my memory is sweet peas. Time consuming to grow, somewhat fleeting in our climate, I am always ready to drop them from next year’s list until I look at the photo. Then I recall just how much I enjoyed their appearance and scent!!
Successes: It can be hard to see all the good things that happen when you are in the midst of seed starting, weeding, transplanting and harvesting. I tend to dwell on what is not working (don’t all gardeners?) and often pass over the good stuff. Evaluating the successes allows you to repeat or expand on your wins for next year. This year I grew lisianthus (prairie gentian) for the first time. It grew well in our climate and produces a bloom that is both attractive and long lasting. It has continued to push out buds and I am still cutting it for the vase. Next year, I will try starting it from seed, grow more of them and also plant some in the landscape for bloom from August to frost.
Challenges: Identify what did not go well and try to ascertain what the problem was and if it can be addressed. Sometimes things just don’t work in your situation and its worth evaluating if the time, effort and money is worth allocating to this endeavor. After a couple years of trying, I have decided to give up on ranunculus. They are labour intensive as they require pre-sprouting in March with planting out in April under hoops and frost cloth. Growth was great on the plants however each time a plant budded up an unidentified varmint would come in and make off with the flower bud. So it’s a choice between adding rabbit protection to the already busy growing regime or devoting the resources elsewhere.
Future Opportunities: Always be on the lookout for possibilities for next season. Whether it is a major project or a plant acquisition, this is a good time to firm up ideas. I watch a lot of different types of gardening webinars and do a lot of reading and am always jotting down plant ideas that might work for me. This is a good time to evaluate that list and based on available space, determine what to try for next year. If it involves propagation, it might mean acting now. I have decided to expand my planting of perennial poppies and am going to take root cuttings for the first time which will be overwintered in my extension. With any luck, I will have new plants for next spring.
Try investing in a few hours musing over you garden and you reap the rewards next year.