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.

I Beg Your Garden?
I love the month of October. Anticipation seems to hang in the air as the environment changes from day to day. Colorful sights and crisp cool air as we celebrate the culmination of the fall season and anticipate the next. From frost on the pumpkins to the aroma of apple cider to the brilliant display of fall colors what’s not to love about October? Let’s get to work. I beg your “garden”? Well I don’t view it as work but some efforts in your yard during October can reap a harvest of rewards. Aside from the exercise and fresh air you’ll get, October is a great month to improve your outdoor living space.

The beautiful fall color of Fothergilla
The beautiful fall color of Fothergilla

Frost tolerant Pansies can add an instant splash of color to spaces in your outdoor living area. They tolerate October frosts with colorful blooms. Plant breeders have developed both solid color and “faced” pansies with the classic pansy look in a dazzling array of color choices. You really don’t have an excuse to plant some pansies.
Pansies are colorful tough dudes
Pansies are colorful tough dudes
I beg your “garden”? Whether you have a small space or large, pansies are adaptable, easy to plant and as an added bonus are the gift that keeps giving. Frost tolerant tough pansies planted for fall color will hibernate under the cover of snow and return next spring to provide welcome color for winter weary people. This year with the cooler spring and summer temperatures we’ve experienced, I’ve continued to enjoy the pansies I planted last fall. A great way to enjoy them is to plant spring flowering bulbs like tulips or daffodils first. After planting fill the trench or hole and plant pansies over the top. The pansies provide beautiful fall color now and the bulbs will grow through the reblooming pansies next spring.
Tulips growing through pansies planted last fall and reblooming in the spring
Tulips growing through pansies planted last fall and reblooming in the spring

Asters, Chrysanthemums, and Swiss Chard also provide instant color and with a little mulch protection should reappear in spring. You should also plan or “plant” for the future in addition to adding instant color. I beg your “garden”? Fall planted bulbs like Tulips, Daffodils, Dutch Iris, Crocus, Alliums, Scilla, and more are so easy to plant, as easy as dig, drop, done. An investment in these bulbous orbs of promise now will reward you with a colorful surprise next spring.
Spring flowering bulbs like crocus planted in fall make the landscape come alive in spring
Spring flowering bulbs like crocus planted in fall make the landscape come alive in spring
In addition landscape plants like shrubs, trees or perennials respond well to planting in October. The soil is still warm and we get sufficient natural rainfall. The plant is focused on root establishment and not top growth in fall. By next spring you have an established plant that is off to the races.
It’s also time for trick or treat when it comes to weeds in your lawn and landscape. I beg your “garden”? Well for all those who call me in April and May telling me weeds seem to be appearing from no where overnight, I have a trick FOR you before they play a trick ON you. October is the time to rid the yard of winter annual weeds like Henbit when they appear waiting for you to ignore them. In spring they’ll burst into flower and “appear overnight”. While controlling winter annual weeds it is also the perfect time to control perennial weeds like Dandelions. With both types of weeds you can spend some time with a good pair of gloves or a “weed popper” if you want to take the manual approach. I find a stroll with a weed control spray applied directly to the weeds provides excellent control in fall. Transference of controls into the roots is much better in fall then in spring. Take me to your “weeder” in October and you’ll have time to treat yourself to some fun, not tricks, in spring.
Use leaves as a carbon source in your garden then feed your lawn in fall
Use leaves as a carbon source in your garden then feed your lawn in fall

If you want a better garden next spring you need a kick in the “plants” now. I beg your “garden”? I have found from personal experience that the people who spend some time in their outdoor living space in October have the nicest lawns and landscapes with less effort in spring.

Trick and Treat

It’s October….time for trick and treat. No not trick or treat but a landscape “treat” compliments of yours truly and then a “trick” nature plays on us. First for the treat to save you time and money.

Fall turf feeding time

Fall is a time the natural rainfall can be quite variable. During dry spells you can minimize insect damage (namely grub damage) to your lawn by simply raising the deck on the mower to 3 to 3.5 inch mowing height. Grubs do the most damage to lawns that are dry and stressed by low mowing heights. This damage often happens late in the season. Raising mowing heights helps improve root mass and the denser the root mass the better able the turf can withstand grub activity in fall and spring. It’s an easy, effective no cost “treat” for your turf that will improve your green…..both in your wallet and with your lawn.

Now for a nuisance “trick” in the landscape….Oak Skeletonizer. This insect when abundant will “skeletonize” the foliage on your oak trees. Not a “biggie” because the foliage is about done for the season anyhow. The bigger issue is the people problems it causes. Greenish caterpillars that dangle down from thin threads of silk crawling on people and decks and the tiny whitish cocoons (look like rice) that mess up the landscape, patio furniture, grill and your car parked in the driveway. Fortunately the insect is native and not an invasive foreign insect so the populations are cyclical and vary from heavy to “crashed” from year to year. Oak trees are majestic but also susceptible to a host of insect problems (Gypsy Moth and the resultant black rain anyone?) so I recommend an annual imidacloprid drench at the base of the trees. This will help systemically control the ebb and flow of leafminers, tent caterpillars, loopers, skeletonizers, rollers and worms that seem to party in an oak tree.

Oak leaves in October

Some years are worse than other meaning you may have to grin and bear this “trick” of nature.

Keeping my eyes peeled for Nature's tricks