Get the Most Out of Autumn Colors

09/22/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Landscaping, Plant Care, Uncategorized

Our days really feel just like autumn should. Cool nights, bright days, and moist soils are the highlights of every gardener’s end of summer. Now through the end of October is the ideal planting season. If ‘struggle’ is descriptive of your gardening experiences, the solution may come down to timing. In arid mountain gardens the timing of your garden activities is really critical, and now through Halloween you should take advantage of ideal planting conditions.

This is especially true for large plantings in the yard. There is no better time to plant evergreens of spruce or pine, cypress privacy screens, fruit trees, and plants chosen for their autumn foliage. This also is the ideal time to plant lawns, second only to the month of March, for quick easy establishment of lush lawns. The same holds true for the native grasses and re-vegetation wildflower mixes.
Virginia creeper and burning bush just started showing off their burning red colors. The season is right for planting either and the best selections are available right now. Both naturalize very well in our region, guaranteeing a consistent fall show every year.

Dwarf Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’) is a preferred variety prized for its blazing red foliage through the weeks of fall. A neat, well-behaved shrub that is easily maintained at head high, this plant looks great when planted with autumn gold natives like sumac, lilac, and gold euonymus. It is sensational as a wild garden accent where more interest and color is needed in the landscape.

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You can get a lot of plant for the money in fall. Landscape plants fill the grower’s bucket to the brim and are taller than their spring rivals. Plant now and roots will quickly take hold in our mountain soils. This extra time to establish roots ensures that plants will burst with new spring growth next year.

As experienced gardeners know, the fall fertilizing is a landscape’s most important feeding of the year. If you had to pick just one time of year to feed a mountain landscape, it would be in autumn. Just as top growth begins to wind down, plants show off their fall colors, drop their leaves, and are actively absorbing nutrients to send out new roots. Plants need to be fed as this process happens. Fertilize right away and use the rains to your benefit as they carry the food deep into the soil. Your fall foliage plants will love the extra boost and thank you with renewed vibrancy.

The right food is the secret to the brightest fall colors. Use a plant food that’s low in nitrogen, preferably a slow- release organic food that delivers winter-long care. Without food local plants give a dull performance with muted colors or missed color all together. Without a healthy strong base, weak plants can go straight from green to brown and drop!

Fall feeding is even effective for native plants in our yards. Whether a majestic 100′ tall Ponderosa or a rugged pinion pine, all natives perform better with a fall feeding. Even my alligator junipers get a good dose of food to bring out their silvery blues. Healthy, well-fed plants not only look better but are better prepared to fend off predators like bark beetles, tip borers, and scale.

Fall feeding is so important that I’ve blended a plant food especially for our region. Simply called “All Purpose Plant Food” this all-natural blend of plant nutrients is perfect for the fall application. Generously apply the grains with a hand spreader as you walk around your yard, then water in thoroughly. The food will work its way into the ground, even through rock lawns and weed fabric, to make itself available to plants. Forget liquid fertilizers like Miracle Grow. Those products flush through the soil so fast that plants don’t have time to absorb the nutrients.

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Pinion Pine Scale has been bad this year, so combative action is called for right away. If scale has been a problem in your pine trees, you’ll be glad for this tip that really works. Applied before mid-October, liquid “Plant Protector” poisons the sap so that scale will die the moment they attach themselves to next spring’s needles.
Simply mix it in a two-gallon watering can and apply the solution at the base of the tree. The plant will absorb the liquid and carry it throughout the tree for built-in scale control. With “Plant Protector”, I have brought back pinion pines from impending death. For really bad scale infestations apply this magic liquid again in April and your tree’s problems will be solved.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.