Autumn struts onto the garden stage with tress ablaze in a show of red, yellow, and crimson leaves.
By Chris Cohan
Autumn struts onto the garden stage with tress ablaze in a show of red, yellow, and crimson leaves. The garden floor is covered in colorful confetti of fallen leaves. Walking through leaves, listening to their familiar sound, kicking them, and when no one is looking jumping into a pile are among the joys of the season. The invigorating combination of fiery leaf colors, crisp air, and sharp sunshine provides gardeners with renewed energy. The only bad thing about fall is the return of the leaf blowers in full force. (Unfortunately, most landscapers and far too many reprobate homeowners disregard the seasonal ban in summer.)
Winter is just around the corner. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts another cold one — bad news as most of us are still recovering from last winter. All the more reason to enjoy the dazzling displays of color now.
Why do leaves change color? Temperatures play a role — warm, sunny days followed by cool, but not freezing nights help with coloration. Shorter days trigger biochemical signals in the leaves telling them to prepare to drop. This triggers cessation of the production of chlorophyll, leaf-green pigment, thus allowing other pigments, existing but masked by the dominant green, to flourish. Carotenoid pigments produce the yellows in birches. Anthocyanin pigments produce the reds and oranges found in dogwoods and sugar maples.
It’s time to move your houseplants back inside. Try to make it as easy as possible for them and you. First, do it now, before it gets chilly. Inspect everything BEFORE they make it through the front door — turn over leaves, check the stems and remove any leaf debris that can settle on the potting soil. Hose down pots with a steady stream of water and wipe them dry. Use fresh potting soil if repotting or additional soil is required. Any plant with an insect or disease problem that you can’t handle, get rid of it. No sense in trying to control an epidemic in the home this winter.
The greatest problem is available sunlight inside. There are just so many windows with a good, sunny exposure, so use them all. Try to duplicate the light the plants were receiving outdoors inside your home. It’s tricky, but what choice do you have? Remember to rotate plants every few weeks so they remain uniform, not leggy and stretched.
Clip all herbaceous perennials to a few inches above grade. Reduce roses by a third then thoroughly remove all debris to ensure healthy and vigorous plants. Trim caryopteris, buddleia, and spirea back by half. Prune creeping cotoneasters and winterberry back, but only as far as the berries. Deadhead mop head hydrangeas now, but don’t prune them too much or you will have fewer flowers next year. Consider replacing older hydrangea arborescence varieties with newer ever-blooming varieties or those that bloom on new wood like Annabelle.
If you had a bumper crop of herbs, freeze them and they will retain their flavor for up to a year. Start by clipping them way down, and discarding any blemished leaves. Wash and allow to thoroughly dry. Remove oregano, basil, parsley, and other soft herb leaves from stems. Next chop and put a tablespoon of herbs into ice cube tray slots (each cube equals a tablespoon of herb for future recipes). Gently fill with water. Basil also blends well with oil. Once frozen, remove and place cubes in zip-lock bags, label, and date.
Hard herbs like rosemary and thyme should be washed and thoroughly dried. Keep leaves on stems and place in zip-lock bags. Place in freezer for two weeks. Remove and gently roll bag with a rolling pin or bottle of wine. This should separate most leaves from stems. Discard stems or save for roasts.
Heading back outside, add as much garden debris (except tomato and rose debris) as possible to your compost pile. Also, keep as many raked leaves as you can. A tall pile flattens out quickly and attracts earthworms, and decomposes, becoming a free source of black gold to top dress your plants in the spring.
Head back to the tool shed to tidy up for the season. Clean, sharpen, and oil all tools. Use up all leftover fertilizer. Wash out and dry spreaders and sprayers. Clean lawn mowers of caked-on grass and sharpen the blade. Detach garden water hoses and drain before storing for winter. Don’t just throw hoses in the corner in a sloppy pile. Make sure you wrap them up nicely and secure well with a few ties. When spring returns, you will be happy you stored all your hoses and tools properly.
Move your snowshovels, car windshield scrapers, and that half used bag of ice melt to the front of your garage. Oh, you never put them away last year? Brilliant. The upside is now you have one less chore to complete.
Tip: When you go to buy leaf bags, buy many packs, as you always need more than you think. Also have extras for when spring appears and you just have to get out there to garden.