Ask the Gardener: Tips for getting more blooms next spring

Plus, hearty shrub suggestions to fight water runoff.

Adobe Stock
You can plant bulbs in groupings, rows, or layer them. Ask the Gardener suggests the latter.

What to do this week Plant perennials, trees, shrubs, and roses, many of which are on sale. Take photos of the garden and make notes to help you plan for next year. Don’t fertilize plants because this makes already drought-stressed ones even thirstier and interferes with them winding down for winter dormancy. Harvest winter squash and pumpkins before frost but wait until after for rutabagas and turnips. Plant spring-blooming bulbs now, pointy end up. For more blooms with less effort, place the largest spring-blooming bulbs in the bottom of an 8-inch-deep hole, cover them with soil, then add a layer of medium-sized bulbs, then more soil, and then the smallest bulbs in the top 3 inches.


Q. After the summer drought, should I risk installing sod to make our regraded area level with the new driveway? Finishing the side will allow us to call back the driveway guy for the final layer of asphalt. I am going to broach the idea of making a center island larger and reducing the lawn area with our landscaper.

R.B., Westwood

A. Please do reduce your lawn size to improve local noise and air quality and slow global climate change. (Lawn care equipment has pollution exemptions industry lobbyists have pushed through Congress.) However, this IS the best time to lay sod, assuming your drought-battered municipality will allow you to water it — a lot! So check with town officials first because new sod needs a half-inch of water three times a day for the first week, twice a day the second, then every other day the third. This is to knit the new sod roots with the ground underneath. It should be ready for light foot traffic after that, when it’s dry, of course. This is also the best time to patch or thicken an existing lawn with seed. Do not fertilize or mow before the new grass reaches 3 inches. I would avoid mowing new sod at all this year if you have a rider mower; its sheer weight can cause damage.


Q. I cut down pine trees at our Maine lakeside vacation home, and local ordinances say I must replace each with two shrubs to help disperse runoff into the lake when it rains. I believe the shrubs have to be natives, and I know they must be 4 feet tall and survive for at least two years. Other things I have planted there have died because the soil is poor and partly shaded. What do you suggest?

J.L., Bridgton, Maine

A. Mariah Litka of McSherry’s Nursery in Center Conway, N.H., is not far from you and often recommends chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) for such difficult spots in your zone 4/5 region or highbush blueberry (vaccinium corymbosum). DO NOT give in to the temptation to plant barberry or burning bush, two incredibly invasive shrubs from Asia overwhelming our woodlands. They are one reason many towns are now specifying native shrubs. You should also buy a cubic foot of blended compost (about one large bag) for each shrub. You may be able to squeeze shrubs grown in 5-gallon containers into your car, take them home, and plant them yourself, but hire the nursery crew to deliver and put in larger sizes. Root balls can be surprisingly heavy. And when you are at your local nursery, bring photos of the site and ask whether they have a staff designer who can make suggestions.


Some planting advice from Litka: When planting shrubs, trees, or perennials, dig a planting hole the depth of the container but three times as wide. Mix your compost half and half with the local soil you dug out. Fill the empty hole with water and let it sink in. Settle the root ball in so its top is level with the surrounding ground. Laying a straight-edged item across the hole can help you determine height adjustments. After backfilling, use the leftover soil to build a little dirt wall or saucer edge around the new plant to slow water runoff. Then soak the new planting until the saucer is filled. Do this three times a week for the first month. Get your plants in the ground before December or wait until next year.

Send questions and comments, along with your name/initials and community, to [email protected] for possible publication. Subscribe to our newsletter on and follow Address on Twitter @globehomes.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on