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Autumn Is Not the End of Gardening

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As the Northern Hemisphere moves deeper into autumn, the daylight hours get shorter and the weather colder. This means the gardening season is ending, right?

Well, not so fast.

Lee Reich is a gardener and writes for The Associated Press. He shared his thoughts on growing plants in and around the home.

In mid-October, Reich was cleaning up his garden in northern New York state when he heard a weather report on the radio. The announcer warned that freezing temperatures were coming, and this would put an end to the gardening season.

The weather reporter may know about weather conditions, Reich writes, "but he is no gardener."

To Reich, colder weather does not mean the end to gardening. He admits that his more tender vegetables and flowering plants froze to death when temperatures dropped to 1.6 degrees Celsius. The beans, peppers and marigolds did not survive the cold.

However in his story, Reich writes lovingly about what is still growing in his garden. Even with a recent frost, he says, there are still leaves on the trees turning beautiful colors of red, yellow and orange. His butterfly bush is still producing flowers.

This undated photo shows New York asters (aster novae-belgii) in New Paltz, N.Y. Asters can be enjoyed in the garden as well as in the wild. (AP Photo/Lee Reich)
This undated photo shows New York asters (aster novae-belgii) in New Paltz, N.Y. Asters can be enjoyed in the garden as well as in the wild. (AP Photo/Lee Reich)

Reich says his rhododendrons and heaths, two hardy flowers, "look as healthy the morning after the frost as the warm day before it." Hardy is a way to describe plants that can live in harsh conditions or colder weather.

In my garden, my butterfly bush, rosemary and hardy flowers like chrysanthemums are also doing fine. So far, night-time temperatures have dropped as low as 7 to 8 degrees Celsius.

Reich also suggests looking around your garden or the grounds around it. Some areas may not be as cold as others. A wall or a tree can prevent temperatures from dropping as low as in more open, exposed areas. Reich noted that some flowering plants, growing next to the west side of his house still look healthy and strong.

Hardy vegetables

Pictured here, are hardy vegetables, such as cabbage and other seasonal greens, growing in Lee Reich's upstate New York garden. Growing fall vegetables is like having a whole other growing season in the garden. (AP Photo/Lee Reich)
Pictured here, are hardy vegetables, such as cabbage and other seasonal greens, growing in Lee Reich's upstate New York garden. Growing fall vegetables is like having a whole other growing season in the garden. (AP Photo/Lee Reich)

It is not just flowers and trees that can do well in colder temperatures. Hardy vegetables can still be productive. There are plenty of cold-hardy vegetables growing in his garden. His kale, spinach, broccoli, lettuce and radishes looked fine, he said, after a night or a few nights of below-freezing temperatures. In fact, he adds, such vegetables look and taste better during this kind of weather than they do in summer heat.

Another writer and gardener, Robin Sweetser, provides advice on gardening for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She notes that autumn is a favorite time of year to plant some things.

On the Almanac.com website, Sweetser says this is the best time to plant trees and small woody plants or shrubs. She explains that the combination of warm soil and cool air helps their roots to grow. Roots will get established in the ground before the ground freezes.

The kinds of trees and shrubs to plant and when to plant will depend on the climate where you live. Both experts advise gardeners to think about their plants for autumn and winter.

Before planting, Robin Sweetser suggests asking yourself these three questions:

  • Does the plant have colorful berries for winter interest?
  • Will it interest birds?
  • How will it look in other seasons?

Lee Reich adds that at his home, there is less sunlight at this time of year. And all plants, hardy or tender, make little growth. Once the tender flowers are gone, he says, it is time to enjoy the "hardworking shrubs."

Both gardeners tell us that colder weather does not have to mean your gardening is done. Or that the ground should look empty and dead. With some planning, you can enjoy something in your garden even during the cold weather.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Lee Reich writes about gardening for The Associated Press. Robin Sweetser has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide. Anna Matteo adapted this story for VOA Learning English. The editor was George Grow.

Words in This Story

garden – v. to work in a garden : to take care of the plants in a garden

garden – n. an area of ground where plants (such as flowers or vegetables) are grown

tender – adj. not tough

frost – n. the occurrence of weather that is cold enough to cause water to freeze and frost to form

leaf– n. one of the flat and typically green parts of a plant that grow from a stem or twig (plural leaves)

hardy – adj. able to live through difficult conditions (such as a cold winter or a drought)

exposed – adj. not shielded or protected

berry– n. a small fruit (such as a strawberry, blueberry, or raspberry) that has many small seeds (plural berries)

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