Pacific Northwest's fall is a prime gardening season

by Lorene Edwards Forkner

Fall in the Pacific Northwest is prime gardening season, sort of an unsung second spring. Returning rains quench the dry garden and finally relieve us after this exceptionally hot and dry summer. Plants and the soil respond with fresh vigor. That makes NOW the perfect time to spruce up the landscape and get a jump on next season.

• Take a look around your garden — while this growing season is still fresh in your mind — and assess what worked. If anything was disappointing, rip it out.

• I can never have enough spring blooming bulbs. Shop local nurseries now for the best selection of tulip, daffodil, crocus and other so-called minor bulbs, and your garden dollars will go much further than purchasing already potted bulbs in tempting full bloom next spring.

• While you're at the nursery, scope out end-of-season clearance sales on most plants. West of the Cascades, pleasant days, cooling nights and still-warm soil temperatures promote strong and rapid root growth; you'll be amazed at the growth even a little 4-inch perennial can put on over the winter. By next summer a plant could easily double in size.

• Fallen leaves are another source of valuable no-cost garden riches. Mound raked leaves into contained piles where they'll slowly break down to yield a rich leaf mold or compost in a year's time. To speed things along, I fill a plastic garbage can with dry leaves and use a string trimmer like a stick blender to whirl them to a finely chopped texture. These "processed" leaves can be placed into beds as a fluffy mulch now, which will save you a step in the spring.

Everyone is watching his or her budget these days and gardeners are no exception. Want some free plants? Divide bleeding heart, campanula, catmint and hardy geranium this fall, and they won't even miss a spring-blooming beat. As a general rule, divide plants that bloom before July Fourth in the fall; divide summer blooming plants in early spring.

Using a garden fork or spade, simply dig mature perennials from the garden and place on a tarp so you can see your work. Using a sharp spade, split the plant into several smaller sections. Discard the less-productive, sometimes woody, center of the clump and retain the new growth around the edges. Replant the divisions in well-amended garden soil. Water them well and prepare to be astounded at how quickly the little plants swell to the size of their parent plant. Trade extras with friends and neighbors in an informal plant swap, which is like turning tired plants into garden gold.

As a Northwest gardener, I revel in this bonus gardening season every year. Bundled up against the coming chill, I put my annual burst of back-to-school energy to good use out in the yard.

Lorene Edwards Forkner, freelance writer, garden designer and food enthusiast, revels in the seasonal pleasures and broad scope of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. Her latest book, "Growing your own Vegetables" from Sasquatch Books, is now in bookstores.

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