The third week of October is a good time to dig in and plant more spring-blooming bulbs.
You also can plant garlic cloves that will sprout in the spring and be ready to harvest next fall. Uproot any sad-looking vegetables in the garden and add the remains to your compost pile.
The veggies that you can leave in the ground for winter harvest include carrots, potatoes, kale, Swiss chard and Brussel sprouts. Even if the weather turns frosty, these hardy crops might survive and keep you in home-grown goodness for almost the entire winter. Some gardeners cover their edibles with plastic hoop houses or agricultural fleece to extend the harvest of winter greens and root crops.
Q. I have a complaint. Why have you not written about the beautiful Sourwood tree?
This small tree has gorgeous autumn color, narrow leaves that are bronze tinted in the spring and fragrant bell shaped flowers in the summer. It even looks great in the middle of winter with a graceful weeping form. I don’t think there is any other tree that offers four seasons of beauty. I even looked up the needs of this tree and found out it does well in cool summer areas with acid soil, so Western Washington offers the perfect conditions for this lovely tree. Sorry if I sound like a fanatic, but there is a Sourwood tree just outside my window and it is so lovely that I just don’t know why more people don’t plant them. — C.L. Tacoma
A. I agree the only thing wrong about the Sourwood tree is its ugly sounding name. It is also called the Sorrel tree, but to order one from your local nursery you should ask for it using its botanical name of Oxydendron arboretum. Even the botanical name seems unattractive for such a pretty little tree. It should be rechristened the” Four Season” tree or “Tree of Everlasting Beauty” or “The Tree that Needs to be Planted more Often.”
This time of year the foliage turns intense shades of orange, red and purple with silver gray seed capsules that hang in clusters. Thanks for complaining about the lack of press on this tree. If just one reader adds one Oxydendron tree in his or her yard, you will have made the world more beautiful.
Q. How big does a burning bush grow? I have been admiring the bright red leaves on this shrub every fall, and I see that they are used along interstate highways with no added irrigation, so I want to assume they are hardy and drought resistant. I have a sunny spot in the front of the house, but there is a big picture window that I do not want to block. — K., email
A. The bright red shrubs that are in full autumn glory right now are most likely Euonymus alatus. These are one of several plants that have the common name of burning bush. (That is the problem with common names — the same name can be used for entirely different plants.) The good news is that this shrub is sun-loving and drought resistant. The bad news for your picture window is that even the most dwarf or compact form of Euonymus alatus will grow 5 feet high and 6 feet wide in our climate.
If you want fall leaf color for a small space check out the more compact dwarf Nandina or Heavenly Bamboo. Dwarf Nandina varieties that stay around 3 feet high include Fire Power, Gulf Stream and Sienna Sunrise. This is a good time of year to visit a nursery and see the fall leaf colors of shrubs in person. Read the information on the plant tags for an idea on mature plant size but keep in mind that plants continue to grow, and in our mild climate most trees and shrubs grow much larger than the size stated on the information label.
Q. I planted some bulbs of Eucomis, or pineapple lily, and they came up with green leaves in the summer and bloomed in August and September. The spiky flowers were amazing. They also lasted a long time in a vase. Now I want to be sure this plant survives the winter. Do I need to dig up the bulbs and store them indoors? — A.N., Puyallup
A. The good news is that your Eucomis most likely will survive the winter even if left in the ground. It is wet soil that can rot them, so if the bulbs are in a raised bed, container or in soil that is sandy and drains well you have nothing to worry about.
If in doubt, cut back the strappy, green leaves then cover the tops of the bulbs with sword fern leaves or some other water-resistant barrier to keep out the winter rains. Even an overturned plastic nursery pot will offer protection from the constant winter wetness.
The common name pineapple lily refers to the tubular blooms that look like something that emerges from a pineapple plant. It is not a member of the lily family nor will it form pineapples.
The exotic looking Eucomis comes from South Africa, and in our climate needs full sun and good drainage. From personal experience I can tell you these bulbs will bloom year after year with little care, adding a tropical flair to the late summer and autumn garden.