Standing in my yard today reminded me of why we typically call this time of year “fall” instead of autumn. Almost with no breeze, elm leaves float down like confetti, requiring yet another sweeping of the walk leading to the front door. But, I’m not complaining. This is a lovely season, with mild weather and beautiful scenes both in landscapes and in the country side as trees begin their transition to winter dormancy.
Fall leaf color can vary year to year based on temperature and soil moisture leading up to the winter dormant season. I’m always amazed at how late some trees wait to change from summer green to their more colorful fall dress of orange, reds and yellows. Japanese maples seem to wait the longest, often into early December.
Speaking of Japanese maples, you should make plans to attend the last of the East Texas Garden Lecture Series in November when Dr. David Creech will discuss Japanese maples along with a host of other of his favorite landscape plants. Dr. Creech is the director of the Stephen F. Austin Mast Arboretum in Nacogdoches, and is passionate about trees, shrubs and other landscape plants, and always has his eye out for the latest and coolest plants. His talk is Saturday, November 15, at the Tyler Rose Garden Center at 9:00 (registration starts at 8:30, and is $15).
Fall Planting: Now that cooler temperatures are here to stay, it is time to set out pansies for fall through spring color. They are quite hardy, and by planting them now, they will become well established for late winter and early spring blasts of color – just what the doctor ordered to remedy the winter blahs. When I say pansies, I include violas, miniature counterparts of their larger flowering cousins. But violas are only miniature in size – they make up the difference in the multitude of cheerful blooms on compact plants.
There are other annuals that can and should be planted now, including snapdragons, pinks, dianthus, Sweet Williams, candytuft (a short-lived perennial), diascia, linaria, and wallflower. The edible landscape palette includes ornamental kale and cabbage, colorful red lettuce and red mustard, and some varieties of Swiss chard, like ‘Bright Lights’ with their colorful stalks and veins, all of which make interesting and tasty additions to the flower garden.
Lawn Care: Even though lawn growth has slowed down, don’t put up the mower yet. Mowing leaves regularly as they fall is an easy way to initially manage leaves. Mow your lawn at the same height as you did throughout the summer. At some point, if you have a lot trees, leaf cover will overwhelm your mower’s ability to chop them up and disperse them on the lawn. At that point, create windrows, and rake up the leaves and grass clippings for an excellent feed stock for composting, or use as a mulch in vegetable gardens or shrub beds.
This is a good time of year to take a soil test and add lime IF you test results indicate a need to adjust strongly acidic soils. The lime will slowly change the pH over the next several months, and your soil and grass will be able to more efficiently use fertilizer nutrients next spring when growth resumes. Don’t guess, soil test. Every county Extension office has the information needed for submitting samples to a soil testing lab. Or, go to soiltesting.tamu.edu and click on “Our Submittal Forms” to download the form required for submitting samples.
Get Plants Ready: Our first freeze is typically around November 15. It has come as early as October 20 and as late as January 4 back in 1966. Folks living in low lying areas, and out in the country, will see a frost or freeze before city folks where the heat island effect keeps the temperature a few degrees warmer.
Start preparing to move and protect tender houseplants that have spent the summer outdoors. Give them a thorough drenching of water to make sure there are no dry spots in the soil, and then a shot of fertilizer. Check them for insects, slugs, snails, lizards, tree frogs, even snakes, before moving them inside. This morning I spotted an anole hanging out on an aralia that is scheduled to be moved in (the plant, not the lizard) this weekend. Most houseplants will do fine indoors if you place them in a room with lots of windows where they can receive bright light.