Margaret Lauterbach

Fall tips: planting for spring, minding your lawn and seeds, and choosing your tomatoes

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

Plant spring-blooming bulbs now in ornamental beds. Temperatures are cooling down so they won’t sprout and break through soil surface prematurely. Be sure trees are watered well before your sprinkler system is blown out and hoses put away. Don’t prune roses severely at this time, just cut back on long canes that are apt to whip in wind and damage other canes. Leave standing some seedy perennials for birds, since some prefer to pick their own instead of using bird feeders.

Perky Oregon juncos prefer to harvest their own seeds, for instance, and those pretty little birds may already be here spend winter. You may see robins here in winter, too, since many overwinter around Lake Lowell. We’re in the flyway for migrating Canada geese, so this is one of the times of year we hear the honking and see the V-shaped formations of large birds overhead.

▪  Plant garlic and shallot cloves in the vegetable garden for late spring harvest. Newcomers may not realize what a valuable resource our southwestern onion-growing area is for this state. It is so valuable that allium sets, seedlings, cloves and heads are forbidden for use in this area unless they’ve been produced in this area. Locally owned garden centers and nurseries know this, and so do reputable vendors in the nation, for they won’t send those materials to this state. This means there is a quarantine in place, and you are also not to use onion, garlic or shallot sets from grocery markets, for if certain disease spores get into the irrigation water, it can spoil a field from growing alliums, at least for the foreseeable future.

▪  We’re not quite through with outdoor work for the year. We can use power mowers to shred and collect leaves to cover bare garden soil and/or to mulch perennials in ornamental beds. Do not pull mulch tightly around stalks, for that invites disease. Leave a breathing strip of an inch or two. Remember, too, that matted leaves may bar oxygen and water from reaching soil. Shredded leaves admit both. We may have to do some leaf raking in ornamental beds, but leave fallen needles beneath needled evergreens, for their roots are especially vulnerable to cold temperatures.

▪  If you don’t fertilize your lawn with its own clippings, you should have given it one-quarter of its annual fertilizer need in September, and plan to give it half of its annual food in December. Lawns may look dormant, but they’re tillering (producing more grass blades) at this time.

▪  Some seed companies send seed catalogs in January, but by then some of the best varieties are sold out. I’ve been sending out seed orders since September, since I plan to grow some different varieties of crops than I’ve grown before. Garden writer Lee Reich recently listed his favorite tomato varieties, most of which I’ve grown and liked, except for Valencia. Since I haven’t grown that orange tomato, I want to. Tomatoes grow differently in different parts of the country, but some of his favorite varieties don’t grow well here. Amish Paste, Belgian Giant, San Marzano and Cherokee Purple do, however. He thinks the fresh taste of San Marzano isn’t good, but they’re great cooked, as in salsa. San Marzano is a cylinder-shaped paste tomato, far superior to Roma. I haven’t grown Belgian Giant for many years, but it’s a good idea to grow it again.

Reich grows only indeterminate tomatoes (that is, tall-growing), and I used to grow only that type as well. But the past few years I’ve been growing some determinates on my raised beds, and let them sprawl. This year I’ve been much impressed with the abundance of fruit the variety called Taxi puts out. It’s early, vividly taxicab yellow, nearly 3 inches in diameter, and a very good utility tomato. My tomato favorites are Opalka, Tiffen Mennonite, Howard German, Paul Robeson, Cherokee Purple, Amish Paste, Santa Clara Canner, Gold Medal (formerly called Ruby Gold) and Prudens Purple. Prudens Purple has not been as productive in recent years as it used to be, though.

▪  At this time of year, perennials are mainly sending plant food to their roots, so it’s a good time to use herbicides. Debbie Cook says vinegar won’t act systemically, but it did cut back on Canada thistle in my yard last fall. Anytime you can destroy or pull green foliage, it works to exhaust root vigor, so it may help control field bindweed in time. A long time.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.