It’s Not Over Yet

By the time October arrives, I’m tempted to “throw in the trowel,” especially after a summer as hot, dry,  and smoky as this one has been. I’m tired of hauling the hose to water the containers on my deck. I’m tired of pulling weeds that manage to stab my hands even inside of gloves. I’m even tired of eating chard, chard, and more chard. (Note to self: five or six plants is plenty!) I’m ready for fall, with its orange leaves,  warm days, and brisk nights, but I’m not at all ready for winter’s drab colors and bare branches.

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Fall Frustrations

While some species are easy to identify, many birds present challenges. Look-alike species such as scaups (below), sandpipers, gulls, and the notoriously difficult Empidonax flycatchers, are enough to keep birders working to improve their skills for years to come.

But as if that wasn’t hard enough, just as we begin to feel confident, fall arrives. Birds are migrating, males become drab and the world is flooded with a new crop of immature birds. It makes me feel like a beginner birder, all over again!

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Container Makeovers

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We’re nearing the end of August, and both the garden and the gardener are… tired. This has been a long, hot, summer, and the entire state of Colorado is in a drought. The unending parade of 90+ degree days, unusual for our elevation, has left the plants bedraggled, the flowers faded, the leaves with crispy brown edges.

The large pots of color on our deck are the worst. The violas that looked so pretty in June are now covered with powdery mildew. In spite of what the seed packets promised, the cosmos and zinnias grew too tall, towering over the petunias, and the snapdragons stayed too short. My chard leaves are tunneled with leaf miners, and it’s nearly impossible to keep them sufficiently watered. (Memo to self—do not plant chard ‘Bright Lights’ in a container with more xeric annuals, no matter how colorful the stems or how many seedlings are left over after planting the veggie beds!)

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Don’t Wait. Plant Now.

Plants for sale @Lowe's-CS_2008aug02_LAH_5093If the cooler weather and turning leaves haven’t alerted you, the calendar can’t lie. Tomorrow is the first day of autumn. Can our first frost be far behind? It’s tempting to let the change of seasons put a stop to gardening for the year, but there’s still much to do. (See my previous post on “Putting Your Garden to Bed” for ideas.) Of course we know that many spring-blooming bulbs go in the ground now. But how about perennials, shrubs, and even trees? Can we plant (or transplant) them now? Even for those of us who live in places with cold winters, fall is a terrific time to plant.

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Autumn Crocuses for a Season Finale

Colchicum hyb_Autumn Crocus_DBG_LAH_3082When we think of crocuses, we imagine the first flowers of spring, daring the cold and snow to herald the coming change of seasons. And just as crocuses start the growing season, they can also be among the final flowers of fall. You may know them as Meadow Saffron or Naked Ladies (although that name also belongs to Amaryllis belladonna)—these goblet-shaped pink–to-purple flowers that spring leafless from the ground in early autumn. They don’t last long, only two or three weeks, but their presence when all else is fading makes them worth the effort.

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A Late Season Garden

Kale & peas_ColoSpgs-CO_LAH_7909I didn’t plant this year’s veggie garden until mid-August. No, I wasn’t procrastinating. I just had to wait for the new boxes to be built, filled with topsoil and compost, and the drip lines put into place. While we moved to our new house in May, the landscaper didn’t start until the end of July—and my veggie boxes turned out to be the last thing they did.

Now I have two 4-foot wide raised planters, each about 10 feet long. (My garden got downsized along with the rest of my life.) I love the “rumble stone” bricks we used—they’re comfy to sit on as I weed and harvest. The boxes are a little over two feet tall (they’re on a slope, so it varies) and we filled them to about 10 inches from the top. I wanted some headroom for adding future amendments and so I can lay clear panels over the edges to create coldframes as needed.

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Yellow Leaves, Red Leaves, Pretty Leaves, Dead Leaves

Fall color @TacomaWA 14oct07 LAH 015You probably remember learning about fall color when you were in elementary school. You know that leaves turn colors before they fall, and it had something to do with chlorophyll. But when is the last time you really thought about fall foliage from a botanist’s point of view?

As gardeners, we want to know which plants turn which colors so we can use them effectively in the landscape. Here in Colorado, most of us know that aspens turn yellow golden, Gambel’s (scrub) oaks become a flaming reddish orange, and burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) shine in stunning shades of fluorescent pink, purple, and red. But why exactly do they do that? And how?

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Fabulous Fall Grasses

What do we plant for fall color? Most of us would quickly list off maples and crabapples, or perhaps a burning bush (aka winged euonymus). But what about grasses? Some ornamental grasses have impressive fall foliage, and it lasts all winter.

Ornamental grasses are everywhere. What was once a fairly obscure group of landscape plants have emerged into the spotlight, and their popularity shows no sign of fading. That’s not surprising, considering how much they have going for them—flowing leaves, towering seed heads, a fountain shape unlike that of shrubs or perennials that adds contrast and texture to the garden.

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Putting Your Garden to Bed

I first posted this back in 2009, but (with one exception, below) my advice hasn’t changed. While I‘m off looking for migrating warblers today, you should be out in your garden. Here’s why:

  • carrot-sleeping-in-bedSpending time now on chores such as weeding and garden cleanup will reward you many times over when spring arrives.
  • Amending your soil this fall will give you a head start on next year’s garden.
  • Fall is also a great time to build a new patio or raised bed.
  • Protecting your less-hardy plants will increase the odds of them surviving a Colorado winter.
  • Winter’s cold weather is a great time to read articles, take classes, and prowl the Internet to become a more knowledgeable gardener.
  • And the most pressing issue? The weather gurus are predicting snow tonight and/or tomorrow!

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Autumn Joy

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' @Briargate 10sep05 LAH 089As the growing season winds down we begin to focus on turning autumn leaves, dried grasses, and striking seed heads, but for some flowering plants this is their time to shine. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ will star in your fall garden.

Plants grow from a single crown, becoming an upright clump 15 to 18 inches tall and 15 inches wide. The succulent, rounded leaves and stems have a gray-blue cast. Stems are topped with large flower heads that start out dusty-pink and become a rich bronze as they age—the ideal colors to complement fall’s russet and gold.

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