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Dress Up Your Garden

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It may not feel like fall, but now is the time to plant flowers and prepare for spring

October makes us think of turning leaves, pumpkins, cashmere sweaters and oh-so-smart boots. Wait a minute! This is New Orleans, not New England. Here you’ve packed away the seersucker and pulled out those featherweight brushed cottons that look but don’t feel anything like tweed, corduroy or cable knits.

If you think you’re confused, how do you think your trees, plants, shrubs and lawn feel? As I write this, there are still gardenias budding on two bushes on the back patio and at least one magnolia tree with no fewer than eight huge creamy white blooms.

For me, what to wear is easier than what to plant, prune or just pull up. Fortunately, New Orleans is home to one of the premiere landscape designers in the country, and he’s so approachable! René Fransen never fails to answer the million questions that come his way at his Esplanade Avenue offices, cocktail parties and even the grocery store.

Fransen, along with Sandra Pulitzer and members of the New Orleans Botanical Garden Foundation, is spearheading the organization’s first al fresco fest and fete on October 15, called Magic in the Moonlight. And you can bet it will “up the bar” as they say in the realm of fundraising!

But I digress. “When it comes to your garden, October tends to be a transitional month here,” says Fransen, the immediate past president of Longue Vue House and Gardens. “Some days it feels like summer and some ‘teaser’ days have a hint of autumn. Gardening in the subtropical climate of New Orleans can, at times, be a challenge.

“October is a time that provides gardeners the opportunity to set out color to be enjoyed in the fall as well as plantings that will not reveal their beauty until the spring.” Here are a few tips.

Bed out the following for immediate color:

Sweet Alyssum Dianthus
Violas Nicotiana
Petunia s Snapdragons
Million Bells Iceland Poppies
Verbena Marigolds

For shade:

Begonias and Impatiens

Foliage plants to bed out:

Dusty Miller Ornamental Cabbage

Plants to bed out for spring showing:

Foxgloves Delphinium
Larkspur Shasta Daisies

—Put out chrysanthemums for immediate show.

—Prune hedges lightly to shape them; they will retain this shape until spring.

—Cut back sucker growth on trees such as ligustrum, wax myrtle and crape myrtle. It should not sprout back until spring.

Planting

Large trees and shrubs that are not container grown but are field harvested should be removed when weather is cool in the fall. This allows them to establish roots and have a good flush of growth in the spring.

Using a winterizer fertilizer on lawns promotes root growth over the course of the fall and winter for a healthy lawn in spring. An application of a preemergence herbicide will keep weeds to a minimum until the spring application.

Though not a good horticultural practice, you can plant winter rye for a green lawn all winter. This practice weakens the existing lawn but looks good.

Plant sweet peas near a support system they can grow on.

And on that sweet note, I’m off to plant, reap, sow and buy a half-dozen mums, some decorative cabbages and gourds to decorate the front of my house. It may be 80 degrees but I’m going to look autumnal.

For more information about the first Magic in the Moonlight event, contact the New Orleans Botanical Garden Foundation at garden.neworleanscitypark.com. To contact René Fransen, call 529-7294 or visit renefransen.com.