I am one of those guys who embrace cooler temperatures, autumn light, dropping leaves, and the musky, earthy smells that are synonymous with fall. However, it’s interesting that folks who recently relocated to the area from the sub-tropical climates of southern California and low-lying deserts can be shocked by this seasonal transition. They truly are surprised to witness a seasonal change from the glories of summer to fall’s majesty. Once Labor Day passes, gardeners new to the area initially find the transition discouraging. As their heat loving plants fade, novice mountain gardeners say goodbye to the flowers they have nurtured since spring, and think it’s all over until winter passes. Actually, mountain gardens flourish another three months before succumbing to winter’s cold.
The pre-winter weeks in the central highlands are so mild that we easily lengthen the gardening season well into fall. Many mountain plants peak, and look their best once the hot weather subsides. Some of the best-looking plants that show off through the end of the year are available now at the garden center. Late-blooming perennials provide fall flowers, while the plumes of ornamental grasses sway in cooling autumn breezes. Fruits, berries, and grapes love our autumn temperatures, many attracting the wild birds that migrate through this area.
Now through Thanksgiving we local gardeners bring cold weather accents into our gardens with late-blooming autumn sage in pots and raised beds. This hardy plant is just now bringing on its best show. Also, keep in mind the colors of blooming asters and hardy mums. Tall perennials “doing their thing” right now are echinacea, coreopsis, foxglove, snapdragon and the showiest of all . . . the butterfly bush.
Autumn’s pluming heads of ornamental grasses can add textural interest and an unstuffy, modern sophistication to mountain landscapes. When it comes to ornamental grasses it’s hard to overlook the dramatic beauty of a six-foot ‘Ivory Feathers’ pampas grass. I gravitate toward the plumes of the Carex varieties, Little Blue stems, grama, blue lymes, and the Calamagrostis grasses.
Though many people assume gardens should be planted only in spring, fall is actually a better time to shop for perennials and get them into the ground. Increased gardening success is a bonus of autumn plantings.
Fall feeding is the most important of the year, and always on our list of October gardening tasks. However, this year’s heavy summer rains have flushed many of the nutrients out of local soils. So, why not feed plants a couple of weeks earlier than usual in order to enhance our autumn pleasures while supplementing our plants’ health? Without this early feeding red maple leaves will turn burnt orange, yellow aspen foliage will go directly to brown, and sycamores will have no fall show at all.
The best food for local plants is my “All Purpose Plant Food” 7-4-4. Sprinkle the granules around trees and shrubs and the rains will work this food into the ground for us. This special blend goes right through rock mulches, weed fabrics, and is much safer for pets and birds than manmade synthetic foods.
Plant of the week – The dwarf Burning Bush is a neat, well-balanced shrub prized for its autumn-long, blazing red foliage. It is just now going into its fall show across our neighborhood landscapes and here at the garden center. The brilliantly colored leaves make an impressive accent when planted among the autumn gold natives of sumac, lilac, and gold euonymus. Growing to six feet tall, this bush can be planted as a natural hedge that turns an intense, burning red every fall. It is sensational as a wild garden accent where more interest and color are needed.
Garden Alert – Weeds have taken over landscapes. Some are growing right through the landscape fabric in rock lawns! Glyphosate products, like ‘Roundup’, lose their effectiveness as the nights cool, so savvy gardeners change weed-killing tactics and use ‘Weed Beater Ultra’. It is a weed killing technology that even works on dandelions and other weeds growing in mid winter. Not only will weeds completely die, they completely die faster! A tank of Weed Beater Ultra per week, keeps autumn weeds at bay.
Until next week, I’ll see you at Watters Garden Center.
Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at www.wattersgardencenter.com or Facebook page www.facebook.com/WattersGardenCenter .