I am one of those guys who embrace the cooler temperatures, autumn light, dropping leaves, and the musky, earthy smells that are synonymous with fall. However, it’s interesting that folks who recently have relocated to our 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 can find the transition discouraging. As their heat loving plants fade, novice gardeners say goodbye to the flowers they have nurtured since spring, and think that it’s all over until the coming winter passes. They are surprised to learn that mountain gardens flourish a good three months before finally succumbing to winter.
The pre-winter weeks in the central highlands are so mild that we easily can lengthen the gardening season well into fall. Many mountain plants peak once the hot weather subsides. Because some of the best-looking plants show off through the end of the year, they can be found now in stock at garden centers. 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 wild birds that migrate through the area.
Currently there is a trend of growing edibles in our home gardens. It is deeply rooted in the perspective that sees the garden as an active system that provides nutritionally, physically, and esthetically to both wildlife and gardener. Shrubs like currant, blackberry, pyracantha, elderberry, and raspberry are good-looking sources of food to gardeners, and they nourish and shelter migrating birds.
Now through Thanksgiving many of us bring cold weather accents to our houses and gardens by filling pots and beds with late blooming autumn sage. It is a hardy plant that is just now bringing on its best show. Also, keep in mind that the colors of blooming asters and hardy mums, along with the pluming heads of ornamental grasses can add textural interest and an unstuffy, modern sophistication to mountain gardens.
When it comes to ornamental grasses it’s hard to overlook the dramatic beauty of that six-foot tall pampas grass, ‘Ivory Feathers’. But, because these tall grasses come with a price in garden maintenance, I opt for some of the cuter, but equally showy grasses that demand less of my attention. I gravitate toward the plumes of the Carex varieties, Little Blue stems, grama, blue lymes and the Calamagrostis grasses. Other tall perennials “doing their thing” right now are echinacea, coreopsis, foxglove, snapdragon and the showiest of all . . . the butterfly bush.
Though many people assume gardens should be planted only in spring, fall is actually a great time to shop for plants and get them into the ground. Garden centers often have fall sales, which give you the opportunity to see each autumn bloomer at its peak and at a savings.
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Fall is the most important feeding of the year, and usually reserved for our list of October garden tasks. However, this year’s heavy summer rains have flushed many of the nutrients out of local soils. Why not feed plants a couple of weeks early 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 you. This fertilizer goes right through rock mulches, weed fabrics, and is much safer for pets and birds than man-made synthetic foods.
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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 at local garden centers. 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.
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Garden Alert – Weeds have taken over our 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 the garden center.