The Q&A Archives: Fall Planting in Idaho

Question: I live in North Idaho, I don't know the zone, as this will be my first attempt at a garden. I have heard that there are seeds and bulbs that I can buy to plant this fall and they will bloom next spring and summer. I am interested in flowers and vegetables. When I went to your catalog to buy some, I found myself overwhelmed. What can I plant now for blooms/plants in spring and summer in the Idaho panhandle? Thanks so much! I look forward to hearing from you.

Answer: It's always hard to decide what to plant, especially for first time gardeners. Here is a brief list of hardy, reliable perennials: Spring blooming: Columbine, dianthus, coral bells, candytuft Summer blooming: Yarrow, bellflower, coreopsis, purple coneflower, blanketflower, daylilies, summer phlox, black-eyed susan, irises. Fall blooming: Asters, chrysanthemums Spring-flowering bulbs include tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth; these need to be planted now for spring flowering. A rule of thumb for planting depth is soil covering the plant should be twice the height of the bulb. That means if the bulb is one inch tall, you'd need to dig a 3 inch hole--one inch for the bulb to sit in, plus 2 inches of soil on top.

Here's some basic info on fertilizer and nutrients that plants require. The numbers on a fertilizer bag refer to the percentage of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous), and K (potassium) in the bag. There are different formulations for different purposes. In general terms, nitrogen produces lush green growth, phosphorous helps strengthen stems and produce flowers, and potassium keeps the root system healthy. In reality, these elements work in conjunction with one another. If you're applying fertilizer to bulbs, for example, you're not as interested in the plant developing leaves as you are in it flowers, so you'd use a formulation lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous and potassium, such as a 5-10-10. Miracle-Gro's Plant Food at 15-30-15 is another example. Bone meal is an organic source of phosphorous. Since phosphorous doesn't move as readily through the soil as does nitrogen, it's a good idea to mix a small amount (follow package instructions) into the hole before transplanting, to mix it into the bottom of the planting hole. Also, keep adding compost every year. Organic matter is excellent for soil fertility and contains many essential trace elements, such as magnesium.

Most bulbs like full sun, but afternoon shade can also be appropriate. Excellent reference for beginners are the Gardening For Dummies series, coauthored by the editors at the National Gardening Association.

You're in USDA zone 6. As far as seeds go, why not order a hard copy of the Burpee catalog and take your time thumbing through it, choosing the veggies you and your family enjoy the most? Plan on providing all day sunshine for your veggies. Good luck!

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