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Forward Fall

If your yard isn’t full of color this fall, start planning for next year – now.

Forward Fall
By Susan Nienow

In the fall, many residential city streets are drenched in color, especially intense on sunny days. The trees and shrubs are mature and high impact. Ginkgo trees are bright yellow, red maples bright red and the shrubs fill in with the dark red of the oakleaf hydrangeas.

I have color envy this time of year. We started planting in our yard in 2003, not really thinking ahead enough for fall color. My ginkgo tree has no more than 50 leaves and is but 3 feet tall. High impact will have to wait until our trees and shrubs grow to a size where they are visible from a distance.

Most newly planted trees and shrubs follow the three-year plan. The first year they sleep, the second they creep and the third they leap. I give most plants the fourth-year gratis before I move them to what I hope will be a more successful location.

This is also the time of year I am taking stock of the problems in the yard and doing some research to solve them. One is floppy plants. I need some easy-to-use stakes or plant supports for peonies, maximillian sunflowers, phlox and some annuals like zinnias.

Stakes have been on my list for several years, but I never get around to staking until it is very hot and the plants have already flopped. So it is one of my missions this winter to find the right supports and stock up on them.

Fall is my favorite time to plant trees and shrubs so they can get established before the stress of heat and possible drought in July and August. I want to replace our fig tree and will put the replacement in the ground. The fig tree did not survive last winter in a pot even though I put it in a sunny, protected area.

I will also buy some bulbs – mostly daffodils and grape hyacinths, as they are rodent- and deer-proof or resistant. Since we have a large yard I don’t plant crocus or other small bulbs or perennials because they are more easily seen if they are up close to the house. Groups of daffodils have much more impact.

One pest we had not run into before is the yellow jacket – an aggressive stinging wasp. My husband was clearing the pots out from under the screened porch when he disturbed a nest of them in the pile of cocoa mats stored in a wire hanging basket. They attacked, and he was stung a number of times. It took more than a week of repeated sprayings to get them all out of there.

He was on the lookout for snakes and spiders but never gave a thought to yellow jackets.

If you have some tender perennials, shrubs or small trees, protect their roots over the winter with about 2 ½ inches of mulch. The mulch will also keep the roots cooler during our hot summers. The downside to mulch is that the voles love it. Gardening always presents dilemmas requiring the gardener to assess the positive and the negative.

Despite our ongoing war against voles, I will mulch my tender shrubs and perennials this winter. Like carrying an umbrella guarantees no rain, I am hoping that the mulch will guarantee warmer temperatures during January and February.

For a fabulous display in your winter garden, include grasses. They come in all sizes and shapes and are three- or four-season plants. The only time mine are not showpieces is in late winter and early spring when we cut them off to about 8 inches and the new blades of grass are just coming up.

Right now my grasses are in their glory with the showy pampas plumes and feathery miscanthus flower heads. The sea oats have flat panicles that I cut when they are green and then I harvest more when they turn tan for indoor arrangements. If cut when green, they keep that color when they dry. Most of these taller, clumping grasses are dramatic in the winter landscape.

One of my failures is pink muhly grass. This coming spring I will plant more in a third location. I like it enough to take on this challenge though few plants tempt me enough to plant them three times. I label these cranky plants and usually learn to enjoy them in other people’s gardens.

Also on my buy list for next spring is Japanese forest grass that likes to grow underneath trees and loves light shade. It is a clumping grass that falls over gracefully. I am going to add Japanese blood grass with its colorful foliage and one or two grasses that have a blue cast. It is a good thing I lose a few plants each year so I can shop for replacements.

© 2017 Chesterfield Observer