Favorite or New Plant
Crested Iris (Iris cristata) is a short, dense relative of more common garden iris, but this one thrives in shade. It enjoys moist, acid soil, but even in dry shade it spreads into carpets of stiff leaves with blue flowers that open in May. There is also a white-flowering crested iris called 'Alba' that adds a splash of light to dark corners in spring. Whatever the flower color, crested iris are extremely hardy, tolerating winter lows that can dip to -40 degrees F (Zone 3).
Like the flowers of most iris, the blooms of the crested iris are spectacular but fleeting. Happily, the 5- to 6-inch-tall, dagger-shaped leaves stay an attractive cool green throughout the whole season.
Clever Gardening Technique
Putting the Garden to Bed
If you've harvested the last of your vegetables, it's time to get the garden ready for winter. It might be tempting to just walk away and deal with the garden next spring, but a little work now will result in a healthy, productive garden next year.
Cucumber vines, squash vines, and the dried remains of tomato and bean plants are most likely to harbor plant disease. If you allow this disease-carrying residue to remain on the soil's surface, there is a good chance the organisms will make it through the winter and infect your new plants in the spring.
Gather and discard plant material that is severely infected, and plow or spade under the remaining plant debris. Turning under crop residues will expose disease-causing organisms to helpful organisms that will cause it to decay. As the residue breaks down, it will help improve the soil.
Plowing under leaves, stalks, and vegetable plant debris is helpful in other ways. The rough, uneven surface of a plowed garden is more prone to alternate freezing and thawing during the winter months which helps break down heavy soil clumps.
A final step in fall garden cleanup is to evaluate the garden and make notes to help you plan for next year's efforts. Include information on the crops and varieties you grew this year to help you decide about seed and transplant purchases next year. Note the crops and varieties that did poorly. If there was a problem with a particular plant disease, note that too, so you can look for disease-resistant varieties. Even if this year's garden was the best ever and you don't want to change a thing, it's still a good idea to jot down what you did.