Category Archives: Fall

Falling in Love

How often do I hear people say “I just love the fall season.” There is so much to love about October in the garden. From pumpkins and gourds to fall foliage color and crisp refreshing air we fall in love with time outdoors. Aside from being a beautiful time of the year, it is also the perfect time of the year to rejuvenate or establish your landscape. Let me count the ways oh October how I love you. In the words of Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…..10 to be exact why October is a kick in the plants out in the garden.

When Chlorophyll production breaks down in the leaves the other pigments get their chance to shine!

When Chlorophyll production breaks down in the leaves the other pigments get their chance to shine!

1) Plants put in the ground in October focus on establishment; the soil is warm for roots while the air temperature cools reducing stress.
2) Bulbs! Plant Tulips, Daffodils, Alliums, Hyacinths, Crocus and more now for spring color.
3) Mum’s the word. Chrysanthemums provide vibrant color and come back year after year. Give Asters a try too; today’s new varieties are reliable bloomers!
4) Weed control is effective in fall. Weeds just like the trees are moving food reserves into their root systems for winter so herbicide sprays are more effective when applied in fall. Weed control will also knock out winter annual weeds now so they don’t appear in spring.
5) Fall annuals like Pansies or Ornamental Kale are frost tolerant and provide color well into November.
6) Lawns like plants focus on root establishment in fall because of the warm soil and cool air temperatures. Feed your lawn and overseed and it will reward you next spring with thick lush healthy growth. Consider core aeration in fall especially if your soil is clay-like in nature.
7) Shrubs and Trees establish well in fall, again the roots will establish in the soil without energy put into top growth. Fall planted landscape plants establish quicker the following year than spring planted material.
8) Exercise your green thumb as in dollar savings! Deals are generally available in fall to save you money.
9) Money grows on trees. Leaves have natural nutrients and organic structure to improve the tilth of your soil….and they’re free!
10) Maintain your “composture”. Start a compost pile for your garden next year, no time like the present and October is a great time to start!

Rake and Roll

Rake and Roll
October is a great month to harvest a nutrient rich and free soil amendment for your garden….leaves. Money does grow on trees as leaves provide both nutrients and great structure when incorporated into your garden soil. By next spring and summer the soil will be improved with organic matter and in many cases have abundant earthworms providing castings as well. It’s time to “Rake and Roll” in October if you want your garden to have rock star status next year, all at little to no cost.
If you have a grassy area that you want to convert to a flower or vegetable bed next year, but don’t have the time or energy to dig up sod, I have a solution. It’s a passive form of composting which some people call “lasagna” composting. Take the lawn area you wish to convert and cover the grass in the pattern and size you wish in newspaper 2 to 4 pages thick. Do it on a calm day with a garden hose at the ready so you can wet the paper. Otherwise you might find yourself chasing the classified ads all over the neighborhood.

"Leaf Lasagna" planting bed creation

“Leaf Lasagna” planting bed creation

After positioning the paper liberally cover the paper with leaves falling from the trees. I have found that Maple leaves are ideal for this purpose. You can pre-grind them with the lawn mower first if you want to speed up the decomposition process. Once the leaves are on top of the newspaper, finish up with soil placed on top of the leaves to hold them in place. Now you can “leaf” it alone and let nature take its course. The newspaper leaves and soil will suffocate the grass and the recipe will “cook” until spring for tilling into a rich tilth perfect for planting. In spring you’ll be “tilling” it like it is and glad you did.
If you want to develop a “flowering” in your landscape, October is the time to exercise your option of dropping amazing orbs of promise in the soil with spring flowering bulbs. Easy to plant and fun to watch flower in spring, there is a wonderful variety to choose from. If you struggle with rodents nibbling on the bulbs for a winter snack, just remember to have some chicken wire handy. Dig the hole and place the chicken wire in the bottom of the hole. Now situate the bulbs in the hole on top of the chicken wire. Fill with some soil, and fold the chicken wire over the top. Finish filling the hole with soil. The bulb roots and stems will grow through the chicken wire and rodents will be deterred from nibbling.

The "Alliums" have landed in my yard!

The “Alliums” have landed in my yard!

You may also want to consider planting some Alliums. Alliums are colorful, interesting flowers in all kinds of sizes and members of the onion family. Rodents must be self conscious about their breath as they tend to leave them alone for other treats in nature’s buffet.

You work “Yard” for the money

You work “Yard” for the money. Thinking of how to stretch your dollar in the garden? To have green thumbs not by the amount of currency handled but rather results in your landscape? Look no further than the months of September and October for help.
You can use your Dis-“clover” card or your “Grass”-ter card or even maybe your Hosta la Visa card with confidence in the fall for a number of reasons. Discounts on plant material are usually readily available. The weather is cooler and rain generally plentiful making it good weather for both you and the new fledgling sprouts.

Fall is for planting

Fall is for planting

Weed control is more effective in fall. Plants root readily in warm soil in fall as the plants put more energy into establishment instead of top growth like they do in the spring. The reasons are numerous why fall is for planting. Bulbs can be planted, lawns established and repaired, landscapes planted or rejuvenated and even annuals like Pansies or Ornamental Kale can be planted.

Ornamental Kale or Cabbage are perfect additions to the landscape for cool season color

Ornamental Kale or Cabbage are perfect additions to the landscape for cool season color

Plants established in fall have a jump start on their counterparts planted in spring and you look like a neighborhood genius.
Start to prepare your tropical deck foliage plants for cabin fever and the move inside. Soon tropical breezes will turn into whatever winter pleases. Your tropicals or houseplants should be inside and behind glass by then. I’m referring to plants like Hibiscus, Mandevilla, Crotons, Boston Ferns, Palms, Ficus and the like. It’s a good idea to bathe the plants before bringing them inside. Maybe some fresh sterilized potting soil is in order or systemic insect granules to keep the bugs at bay. Make sure soil is not saturated so we don’t create a fungus gnat issue in the home. Without the long warm days of sunshine and breezes the plant will need much less water in the months ahead.
Fall is the time to invest in bulb planting. With a good well drained soil and proper depth it is as easy as dig drop done. And oh “deer” if Bambi is a problem in your neighborhood not to worry. Bulbs like Dutch Iris, Alliums, Daffodils, Fritillaria will do just fine.

Fall planted pansies and Tulips planted in fall will be a treat next spring

Fall planted pansies and Tulips planted in fall will be a treat next spring

If you want to plant Tulips or Crocus you will need to have the repellant handy next spring. I successfully had a great batch of yellow tulips this spring and protected them with Milorganite and a repellant. They were beautiful and the deer were “deerly” departed to another area in the neighborhood.
Make your effort and your money count by actively gardening in the fall. You work “yard” for the money and next spring you’ll be glad you did.


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!

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… 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 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!