Growing Pains (Get it?)

It's finally August, which means I should have started planning the fall garden at least a month ago. Yikes! I did, however, manage to get my bulb orders in, so at least that's out of the way. 

Despite the fact that my husband and I have yet to go to the beach this summer, it's time to prepare for spring blooms.  If the success of last year is any indication, taking time to plan and plant the fall garden carefully is the best way to ensure early-blooming beautiful flowers for spring.  

Here's what you need to consider:

1. Color Palette:  I'm making this a priority this year. Last year, I chose colors based on what I wanted as I approached fall. Not a good idea. That's like grocery shopping when you're hungry. After you finally have dinner,  those Fanta-flavored Oreos you bought on impulse now seem as disgusting as they actually are. (I don't actually know if Fanta-flavored Oreos actually exist, but it seems like something Oreo would do, doesn't it?  I don't know who's responsible for some of those new Oreo flavors, but they should be stopped.) In the same way, when I planted black Bachelor Buttons last fall, it seemed like a good idea. They're fun and novel, right? However, after four months of winter, I didn't want to see black Bachelor Buttons in March. I wanted blue, blue, blue!!!!  So, unless you really love dark colors, I say skip them and those Fanta-flavored Oreos.

2. Timing:  I garden in Zone 7b/8a.  So, my first frost date is approximately November 15th.  That said, I have to get most of my flowers planted well before then. I need them to have some good root growth to get through winter.   Experts, like Lisa Mason Ziegler, in her book Cool Flowers (yes, the flowers are cool, but she's talking about flowers that you can plant in cool weather) suggest planting your flowers 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost date.  In my case, that's a 2 week window between September 15 and October 1st. Both my direct-sown seeds and transplants need to go in the ground then.  If any of your seeds should be started indoors and planted outside, you probably need to start them about a month before your plant out window. For me, that would be around August 15th. However, you should check the seed packet to see what they recommend.    

Here are the dates you need to know for Zone 7b/8a

A. First Frost: November 15

B.  Planting Window: September 15-October 1

C. Indoor Seed Starting: Approximately August 15th

3. Be Strategic:  Like many gardeners (and, apparently, Oreo executives), I'm a glutton.  I love to buy seeds. If it's pretty, I want to put it in my pocket and take it home. However, I never have room for all my seeds and starts.  I'm trying to actually be an adult this year and just buy what I need. For me, this comes down to one thing: simplicity.  Is it easy to start? Is it low maintenance? If I've grown it before, has it treated me well?

For instance, last year I direct-sowed a lot of my flowers and they turned out great. I have very limited space to start things inside, so I'm going to stick with a lot of varieties that did well for me sown directly.  Also, I realize that as much as I love certain flowers, they don't love me. I've been trying to grow ranunculus for 3 years and they almost always rot in the ground. I'm trying another small batch this year (I've got a new trick up my sleeve!), but if they don't work after this, then they're out. 

So, that's what's going on this year. I've got a lot of catching up to do to make my August 15th deadline. 

Thoughts? What are you starting this year?  Also, which flavor of Oreos do you hate the most? I think Peeps sounds the most disgusting.