That’s a Wrap

That’s a wrap. No more “hoe hoe hoe” and lots of “ho ho ho” as another gardening year ends and the holidays arrive. How was your year? Here’s “ho ho hoping” your tomatoes were all you thought they would be this year and your landscape brought you the “ho ho horticultural” joy you were seeking. Were you naughty or nice? Doesn’t really matter at this point with the ground frozen solid. What matters are visions of sugar plums and spring blooming dreams dancing in your head.
Provide the wild birds a holiday “tweet” with some seed and suet offerings in this season of giving. The landscape color they provide in a white and grey tundra backdrop is a welcome sight as we approach the shortest days of the year. Make sure feeders are clean and seed stays dry so your feeding station is the gift that keeps giving.

When the weather gets cold backyard birds need more than just bird seed....they need a water source and suet too!

When the weather gets cold backyard birds need more than just bird seed….they need a water source and suet too!

Make sure to keep fresh clean water in the tree stand so your live cut Christmas tree continues to draw fresh water. If not, the base of your tree trunk calluses over and then has a “drinking problem” unable to pull water into the tree similar to a straw. One way to check the water level at a glance is to float a ping pong ball or fishing bobber or other small floatation in the bowl. You can visually gauge the level versus having to crawl under the tree and use the finger method. A household pet can usually provide a good indication too based on their level of interest.
Poinsettias provide great seasonal color indoors and are quite festive and durable through the holidays provided you avoid a couple conditions. First and foremost is over watering. Most people kill the plants with kindness. Don’t commit involuntary plant slaughter by drowning your plants. Secondly avoid cold drafts. I’m not referring to a holiday draft brew, save that for yourself. I’m talking about drafty doorways sure to bring on rapid decline of the plant.

Proper care for Poinsettias...don't over water and avoid cold drafts

Proper care for Poinsettias…don’t over water and avoid cold drafts

Conversely the dry air of close proximity to a heat register is not good either. Look for a well lit area that is removed from “extremes” and you should be just fine. Today’s improved varieties of poinsettias developed by breeders for longevity and color should easily survive until April when your thoughts again return to the great outdoors and the plant is pitched into the trash.

“Snow”-vember

November is the time to put the yard to bed for a long winter’s nap and prepare for the holidays ahead. During the growing season, branches in our yards extend their leaves like hands to catch the light. Now that the work of the chloroplasts fed by sun, water, nutrients and carbon dioxide is done for a season, the spent leaves carpet the earth’s floor. Their work done, their season in the sun gives way to the dead of winter and branching hope for renewal in a next generation of leaves the following spring season. Having moved amassed sugars and carbohydrates from their manufacturing “plant” to the roots for storage, a healthy plant, in essence, saves for a rainy day. Technically if allowed to do so, the spent leaf does find a second calling as a beneficial compostable soil amendment when worked into the soil or compost pile. It is the circle of life or circle of “leaf” and natural renewal. Why not use the leaves for some composting benefit as a reward because like Neil Sedaka used to sing, “raking” up is hard to do (or something like that). The process of going into dormancy as we head into November is inevitable and non-reversible. Fall then winter is going to happen. Fortunately once dormant, dormancy is a reversible stage but we’ll “leaf” that thought and process for another article closer to spring.

Fraser Fir growing on Christmas tree hill

Fraser Fir growing on Christmas tree hill

It is the process of the growing season ending and inevitable dormancy that I believe make the aroma, the feel, the sight of evergreen branches such a welcome addition to our homes during the Christmas season. The sweet smell of Douglas Fir, the prickly personality of Spruce, the distinctive aroma of Fraser Fir or the comfortable presence of Pine makes you feel at home. You may want to keep some potting soil thawed out to use in porch or front step containers when evergreen boughs are available. One of my favorite November activities is to prune materials from the landscape and add them to evergreen boughs for a welcome arrangement at your front door.

"Spruce up" by pruning boughs from evergreens to make porch pots

“Spruce up” by pruning boughs from evergreens to make porch pots

Use the thawed soil in your containers when you’ve collected your harvest and combine with evergreen branches pressed into the soil. The moisture in the soil will soon freeze holding the arrangement in place for the holiday season. Landscape plants like red and gold twigged Dogwood or Ninebark provide wonderful colorful branches for your arrangement. Foliage and blooms from spent perennials like Ornamental Grasses, Sedum and Agastache or spent flowers of Hydrangea provide dried plumage and flowers for your arrangement. Berries from Holly, Viburnum or Rose Hips provide the color to play against the evergreen backdrop. Look around and be creative, you’ll be surprised how much there is to choose from. Just make sure to check with your neighbors and get their permission before snipping to keep everyone’s spirits bright.
Evergreens are not always ever green. You may notice a large amount of yellow needles during November at the base of your White Pine for example. An evergreen tree will carry a few years worth of needles but shed the third year’s needles as an example. These are the needles you find at the base of the tree and make a great collectible mulch to use at the base of your Rhododendrons, Hollies and Azaleas. Pine mulch is much more popular in certain parts of the country than it is in West Michigan but aside from aesthetics has a functional purpose. Broadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons can also lose their green color in winter due to another reason….desiccation. November is the time to act by spraying desirable broadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons, Boxwood, Azaleas or Hollies with anti-transpirant spray derived from the resin of Pine trees. Products like Wilt-Stop form a soft, clear, flexible film on treated plants, protecting them from moisture loss. Because evergreens retain their foliage in winter, they continue to transpire moisture loss. If the ground is frozen and the plant does not have ability to draw water from the roots, a plant can desiccate and die from exposure to wind and winter sun. You can also use a product like Wilt Stop on your Christmas greens. I have used it for years on my evergreen roping with great results. Boughs, wreaths, Christmas greenery and even your Christmas tree can have extended life from the use of an anti-tranpirant. This allows you to put up greens in November on a reasonable weather day with confidence they’ll last until Christmas. I like to joke that I’ve even used the pine resin in my hair for long lasting hold on a windy November day. Don’t do as I do because it is not recommended on the label and it makes your hair stiff as a board even though it is a natural non-toxic product.
Speaking of green, the last mowing of the lawn usually takes place in November too. During the growing season I recommend raising the deck on the lawn mower for a naturally healthy and weed resistant lawn. With the arrival of November we lower the deck and cut the grass shorter than we do during the summer months. This is done for a couple of reasons. First we want to avoid vole damage to our lawns by eliminating hiding areas and long grass. Voles are “mouse-like” creatures that can do a number on our turf, operating under the cover of snow hidden from natural predators. In addition longer grass blades will lay flat under the cover of snow matting the turf and increasing the probability of snow mold issues come spring.
You can usually find some deals on spring flowering bulbs like Tulips or Daffodils in November. You can successfully plant them in November for spring color. I’ve been known to plant them in December picking through frost crusted soil to do so with success. Maybe it’s the Dutch in my blood but I highly

Force bulbs indoors

Force bulbs indoors

recommend it. Sure beats the alternative of shoveling snow. You can also take these bulbs and “force” them into bloom by potting them up and putting them into cold storage (40 to 45 degrees) for 12 to 16 weeks and treat yourself to some late winter and early spring color indoors.
No need to slow down enjoyment in your landscape in November. It’s “Hoe, Hoe, Hoe” the holidays are here!

Hoe Hoe Hoe

Many studies produce strong evidence that even three to five minutes of contact with “nature” can significantly reduce stress and have a complex impact on emotions, reducing anger and fear and increasing pleasant feelings. That beats drinking eggnog so let heaven and nature sing! Have a “natural” Christmas with evergreen boughs, a fresh cut tree or live potted tree, a Poinsettia, Norfolk Island Pine, Christmas Cactus, Paperwhites, Amaryllis or fresh arrangement!

Evergreen boughs make "scents"

Evergreen boughs make “scents”

Other studies I read continue to suggest that environment can influence your mood. For example, the results of several research studies reveal that rooms with bright light, both natural and artificial, can improve a variety of health outcomes. Now there’s a good reason to get out a ladder and string some Christmas lights indoors and out and be merry! I have personally many times seen the effect some strategically placed Christmas lights can have on the disposition of someone who is feeling a little down during the holidays. A little bit of “electric ivy” can make their spirits bright.

Electric Ivy

Electric Ivy

With winter comes shorter day length and landscape dormancy which makes the aroma, the feel, the sight of evergreen branches such a welcome addition to our homes during the Christmas season. Enjoy the sweet smell of Douglas Fir, the prickly personality of Spruce, the distinctive aroma of Fraser Fir (to my nose Fir has a hint of citrus) or the comfortable presence of Pine that makes you feel at home. Start with some welcoming containers of evergreen for your deck or entry steps. I like to use large ceramic pots that were used for flowering annuals during the growing season but any large pots will suffice. In November before the soil freezes hard, evergreen branches cut at a 45 degree angle to create a point can be pushed into the soil to arrange your festive welcome. If you’re potting up some new containers make sure to have some bags of thawed potting soil stored for use for when you’re ready to arrange. After your arrangement is made and left outdoors the soil will freeze and hold the branches in place. . Look around and be creative, you’ll be surprised how much there is to choose from. Some branches from a Holly, Dogwood or Ninebark shrub or Birch and Willow branches will make the perfect supplement to the evergreen boughs. Just make sure to check with your neighbors and get their permission before snipping in their yard so we keep everyone’s spirits bright.
A few evergreen wreaths and some evergreen garland will help make things merry and festive. I have found the use of the anti-wilt sprays of pine resin that we use on landscape plants in winter are very effective also in helping keep the needles green into January on fresh wreaths and garland.

Money grows on trees!

Oh my “raking” back as some would say when faced with the prospect of clearing leaves from their yard. “Maple” I can help you. Did you know money grows on trees? It’s not a “figleaf” of my imagination. Money does grow on trees and it happens in a couple ways during the fall season.

"Maple" I can help you?

“Maple” I can help you?

The first is when the less dominant pigments in the foliage are unmasked by the loss of chlorophyll. As Billy Madison would say “Chlorophyll more like Boreophyll” but not really. The fascinating “accessory” pigments to the fragile energy producing dominant pigment chlorophyll wait their turn to take the stage. They account for only 1/3 of the amount that chlorophyll is present in a typical leaf, but they pack a punch. The accessory pigments Carotenoids (yellow to orange), Anthocyanin (red, pink, purple) and Xanthophyll/Tannins (tan to rust to brown) produce the fireworks in the fall. All season they played second fiddle to chlorophyll protecting the fragile Mr. C so to speak as suntan lotion from overexposure. When the growing season ends and winter approaches the chlorophyll’s work is done and it’s time to accessorize and go out on the town. The money part comes in when people like you and I take a drive to see the show. The brilliant fall colors are an important boon to tourism and support the economy of our communities in a “tree”-mendous way.

Carotenoid pigments create the banana yellow color in fall tree leaves

Carotenoid pigments create the banana yellow color in fall tree leaves

The second way money grows on trees is of direct benefit to you personally. You can have a green thumb by keeping more of your currency in your hands. You do this by using the nutrient value of a free sustainable resource (leaves) in your yard. Using the leaves in your garden adds organic matter (think earthworms), improves soil tilth and improves water holding capacity. But the big advantage, and here’s where the money part comes in, is the nutrients! Think about it…..as leaf senescence takes place valuable nutrients are being removed from the leaf transported into the tree for storage before being abscised from the tree. Not all the nutrients make it out before they fall. If you shred these leaves to speed breakdown or mulch them into fine pieces into your lawn it is a free slow release fertilizer!

"Raking" up is hard to do....so why not instead harvest and harness the benefits of fallen foliage?

“Raking” up is hard to do….so why not instead harvest and harness the benefits of fallen foliage?

Leaves require microbial decomposition to release their nutrients which is a fancy way to say slow release fertilizer. I’m just “tilling” it like it is people! I was reading a recent study that analyzed the nutrients and chemicals in leaves from 100 municipal leaf samples. This study found that in 20 tons of leaves there is 400 pounds of nitrogen, 40 pounds of phosphorus and 152 pounds of potassium…..the big 3 NPK. There also was plenty of the minor nutrients like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, iron, manganese, copper and zinc to go around. The nutrients from this example well exceeded $150.00 in value on the market. Like I said, free organic renewable slow release fertilizer. So money does grow on trees! What are you waiting for? Let’s travel at the speed of “ground” and may the “forest” be with you. Bon “foliage” my friends!

Don't be bush league! Use the slow release free fertilizer at your feet to improve your garden!

Don’t be bush league! Use the slow release free fertilizer at your feet to improve your garden!

Your neighbors with the nicest yards and gardens are those who invest time to improve them in the months of October and November. If you own a home it most likely didn’t come with an owner’s manual. Landowner spelled phonetically is “land-oh-ner” although horticultural challenged types would pronounce it “land-oh-no” as they ponder where to start. A great place to start is with some fall planting. Fall is no time to throw in the “trowel”. It is a window of opportunity that comes along once a year. The perfect time to plant, move existing plants or in the case of perennials, split your plants!

Fall is the third act in a four season drama, and for some the most spectacular of seasons. A kaleidoscope of color and a last hurrah before dormancy drops the curtain and ushers in the final act, the arrival of winter.

"Orange" you glad it's fall?

“Orange” you glad it’s fall?

Fortunately dormancy is a reversible stage, providing anticipation and suspense for the arrival of spring. Until then senses are heightened in fall with vivid colors, distinctive aromas or tastes and the sights and sounds of leaves fluttering in the breeze. The trees provide a carpet of nutrient rich organics, investing in the earth to feed future generations of growth.

Plant some bulbs this fall. I love to create “hot pockets”…..small open spaces in your landscape where you plant a clump of spring flowering bulbs to surprise you next spring. You don’t have to dig out trenches or large beds with back breaking work to enjoy bulbs. They are as easy as dig drop done. Plant them in groundcover areas by using a spade and opening up a soil “pocket” in the ground cover area. Drop 5 to 7 bulbs in the hole and next year they’ll pop up through the groundcover. If deer and rabbits are a problem plant some Alliums, Daffodils, Dutch Iris and Fritillaria…..all munching resistant. Not tonight deer!

Easy as Dig Drop Done

Easy as Dig Drop Done

Stay grounded my friend

Stay grounded my friend

Another reason fall is for planting? You can pick up lots of bargains on plant material in October. As Donna Summer said, you work “yard” for the money…..and fall is the time to save. Besides, there’s always room for more jello and plants. I’m always pulling up more sod to put another new plant in the ground. Like a kid in a candy store, especially when it involves spending money on a plant bargain and a new plant. I guess that’s why they ask what’s the difference between a gardener and a mutual fund? The answer is one actually matures after 20 years and makes money. I get my “green thumb” from digging in my wallet, unable to resist the next exciting plant. You can save money too by bending over and splitting your plants. It will entertain your neighbors and you’ll be glad you did next spring when the plants start to pop up. Just make sure the fall divided root clumps are large enough and a light layer of mulch is placed over the top so they don’t heave out of the ground in winter.

Many landscape plants put on a spectacular show in fall. Woody deciduous landscape shrubs like Viburnum, Itea, Oakleaf Hydrangea or Fothergilla light up the landscape with color. Witch Hazel started the drama back in spring with its unusual yellow blooms in March. It saves the best for last with a fantastic foliage collage of orange, yellow and red all on the same plant. Autumn Crocus or Colchicum get in on the act with crocus-like blooms in fall. Also known as “naked ladies” these beauties bloom in fall void of foliage. The foliage waits to appear the following spring. Ornamental grasses add interest to the landscape well into winter with a harvest of dramatic inflorescence dancing in the breeze. Fruit and berries add to the color from the rose hips of Rosa Rugosa to the bird “berry-liscious” fruit of Crabapples,Viburnum and the stunning color of Coralberry with a botanical name that says it all…. Symphoricarpos orbiculatus. Today’s new generation of own root landscape shrub Roses like ‘Knockout’ put on a show in fall, many blooming all the way to Thanksgiving. Roses take a while to naturally shut down for winter and some don’t exit stage left until mid to late November!

Witch Hazel leaves laying in a bed of Lamium groundcover

Witch Hazel leaves laying in a bed of Lamium groundcover

Fall is a time to “grow” with the flow. Food reserves manufactured by the foliage are being transferred to the roots. The plant isn’t spending like it does in spring on top growth. The plant is investing in its “hortfolio” and root establishment for future growth. Even though air temperatures have dropped, the soil remains warm enough for root activity well into early winter. Your investment will grow because fall planted landscape plants have a big jump start on spring planted material.