The Signs of Fall: early, late and unusual

By Debra Knapke

On the morning of November 10th I woke up to the first frost in my garden caused by temperatures in the high 20s. The overnight temperatures dipped into the low 30s the week before, but because of microclimates caused by tree cover and topography, no frost touched my plants.

We are experiencing what some call seasonal shift. Weather is variable. This is a given. Two years ago Central Ohio experienced an early frost – October 3rd – which was followed by an extended warm spell. This year the occurrence of the first frost in early November makes it the latest in my gardening life.

What does this mean for our plants? On the bright side, if you were behind in your vegetable garden clean-up, you have enjoyed an extension of the tomato, pepper and squash season. But the weather could interfere with plants going dormant for winter.  The ground has stayed warmer longer and this could interfere with the process of plants getting ready for the winter; “going” dormant. If our temperatures take a rapid dive down and stay there, this could affect growth for next year.

Think of it this way. The soil is still warm which promotes growth. But the ambient air temperature is cold so the signal to the plant is: go dormant. (Temperature is not the only factor that affects a plant’s dormancy process. Decreasing light levels have an effect on the dormancy “countdown”, too.)

Talk about conflicting messages! Which signal should the plant respond to? Send energy to support new growth at shoot and branch tips or keep the carbohydrates stored in the roots for next year’s growth? It is a plant dilemma.

fall-16-11-8-echinacea-last-gasp-cropTomatoes and squash aren’t the only confused plants. Here purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is sending out a few late October flowers. Note that there are new leaves emerging from the crown and the new flowering stems are short; about 6” tall. Contrast that with the stems from summer which are brown and done for the season. The only reason the stems are still there is the seedheads – not present in this picture – which I have left to feed the birds that visit my garden. This plant is responding to an extended warm fall. You also see fall blooms on magnolias, rhododendrons, and other woody plants that have already produced their flower buds for 2017.

Will this affect next year’s growth? Probably not for most herbaceous plants. For woody plants it depends on the species, how much growth is pushed out-of-season and how quickly the temperatures fall and then stay in the teens, 20s, and low 30s.

While the fall growth and bloom of the purple coneflower is uncharacteristic, consider the blooms and leaves of the hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium). Its life cycle is opposite most of our garden plants. It blooms in late August though early October then its leaves emerge in late September, last through the winter, and go into dormancy in late spring when temperatures rise. This year, the flowers started later and lasted until October 31st.

fall-16-10-2-cyclamen-curled-stem-resizeAbove is hardy cyclamen in full bloom on October 2nd. This is later than in previous years. Usually full bloom is mid-September with a few flowers remaining in early to mid-October. Notice the coiled flower stems; these are the developing seedheads. The coiled stems bring the seedheads close to the ground where ants harvest the seeds for the coating on the surface. After removing the coating, the ants discard the seeds. I mention this in case you have wondered how some of your hardy cyclamen moved up to 50 feet away from the main planting.

fall-16-10-31-cyclamen-hederifolium-leaves-resizeOn October 31st there are still a few flowers and the leaves have fully emerged. These leaves will remain under my dawn redwood through winter and early spring.

fall-16-11-8-nasturtium-resizeAnother sign of a later-than-usual fall is the blooming of the nasturtiums along the deer fence around our vegetable garden. These tender annuals from Central and South America usually succumb to light frosts. This is November 8th which is unprecedented in my garden. However, after an overnight low of 28 in the early hours of November 10th, it became a pile of mush.

fall-16-11-8-borage-borego-officinalis-cropBorage, a prolific self-seeding annual, also took advantage of a late fall. This is a seedling of a plant that I removed from the garden because it had reached the end of its flowering life. I scattered its seeds so that I would have a full stand of borage for next year. But what I have is a lot of seedlings now. My fingers are crossed; hoping some seeds did not germinate so that there will be a 2017 stand of borage.

fall-16-11-8-salvia-elegans-golden-delicious-cropGolden Delicious pineapple sage (Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’) is a tender perennial from Mexico and Guatemala, cold hardy in Zones 8-10. Usually it blooms in September, in time to be one of the last food sources for hummingbirds. This year its blooms were too late. Hummingbirds take off for warmer climes by October 1st, and my pineapple sage plants did not bloom until the second week of October.

Over the years I have observed the differences between the plants in my backyard and front yard with respect to plant emergence, bloom times and senescence. It is a mixed bag of results, but one species I felt I could count on to be “on schedule” is Ginkgo biloba. The trees in the backyard show their fall colors at least three weeks before the one tree in the front yard. The back trees drop their leaves by the first week of November, and the front tree starts dropping leaves a day or two before Veteran’s Day.

fall-16-11-8-ginkgo-stupka-resizeAbove is Stupka ginkgo in the backyard that still has some green-tinged leaves and as of Veterans Day, dropped few leaves. Below is a branch from the front tree on Nov. 10th, but the fall color is only edging the leaves. On the 11th, more branches have solid golden leaves, and there is no sign that the rain of ginkgo leaves is about to begin. That may not seem like a significant difference, but I have watched this tree for 30 years and have raked leaves out of the thyme lawn under the ginkgo every year before Veterans Day. November 12th update: ginkgo rain has begun, but it is slow and intermittent. The overnight low was 28 degrees and that frost signaled the ginkgo to let go. The leaves on the ground are all gold. I’m predicting that the gold-edged leaves will fall last without transforming into gold.

fall-16-11-8-ginkgo-front-egded-in-gold-cropAutumn Glory Comes in Many Ways

The perennial queens of the fall garden are the asters. They offer butterflies, bees, wasps, flies and more the last nectar feast of the season. My asters are always late, often not blooming until mid-October and continuing until a hard frost. I have taken them for granted. So I have no data for you, just an entreaty to plant them as they support so many of our garden residents. Below is October Skies aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’) cascading over a log. The other aster image shows a bumble bee caught by cold temperatures. She was not moving early (7:00 am) on the 10th.

Unfortunately I had to remove an ailing Engelmann spruce. In the top branches, I found another sign of fall: an eggcase of a Carolina mantis. I am ecstatic. I saw a pregnant female during the 2015 gardening season, but hadn’t seen any of her progeny this past season. Here’s proof that someone was here. I tied this branch to another tree outside and look forward to seeing baby Carolina mantids next spring.

carolina-egg-case-11-2-16-in-engelmann-spruce-cropOne last example of the variability of fall and this season in particular is expressed below. The spicebush – deep gold color in front – is on time with its color and leaf drop, but the pawpaw in the background are not quite at their peak, solid golden color. Usually these two plants are in color together. Please pardon my anthropomorphic wonderings… but, it seems that the spicebush kept to its schedule, but the pawpaws took advantage of the extended, warmer fall by not shutting down their chlorophyll factories. This led me to think about which attributes will determine the success of a plant in a time of climate change. Flexibility and the ability to adapt will be high on the list.

fall-16-11-8-sun-sculpture-black-walnut-bed-resize

Wishing you a lovely fall . . .

Coda — November 13 in the early morning hours, the temperature fell to 23.1 degrees. While at breakfast I watched as the front yard ginkgo lost all of its leaves except for the ones that had not changed. Now at 9:30 a.m., one by one, even the green leaves are falling. It is mesmerizing.

 

 

 

Pollinator Week

20160622_181447 (2)A Love Affair: Bumbles and Common Milkweed

By Debra Knapke

Every second and fourth Wednesday, the Governor’s Gardeners work in the Heritage Garden at the Ohio Governor’s Residence. The Heritage Garden is special and the only one of its kind in the United States. It showcases Ohio’s natural history by representing the five major ecosystems – also called physiographic regions – of the state I call home.
I’ve been a member of the Heritage Garden Committee since 2004 and have assisted in the design of two areas of the garden. I have taken a lot of pictures of this special place and am constantly amazed at the beauty of these vignettes of Ohio’s natural landscapes.
Today, when I arrived, I was drawn to the area where the common milkweed is in full bloom.  Imagine the sound of hundreds of bumbles (short for “bumblebees”) and the sweetest perfume that floats on a breeze. What a perfect way to celebrate pollinator week: showing them busily at work and apparently very happy. Please excuse my human assumption that they are happy, but I was happy, so they must have been happy, too.
Asclepias syriaca bumbles 2 Heritage Garden 6-22-16 resize
It is not easy to catch bees as they harvest nectar and pollen from thousands of flowers. If you look closely, you can see several bumbles in the picture below. On the left-most umbel of flowers you can see a bumble with loaded pollen sacs.
Asclepias syriaca close Heritage Garden 6-22-16 resizeGuy Denney, former Chief of Natural Areas and Preserves for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and one of the first advisors for the Heritage Garden, said that this stand of milkweed is one individual plant that has colonized this patch of the garden. This plant well deserves the “weed” portion of its name. plant it only if you have room to spare or are willing to “edit” your stand of plants.
Asclepias syriaca combo 2 Heritage Garden 6-22-16 resize
I will be watching for seeds later in July. Can’t wait to start my own patch of common milkweed.
Learn more about National Pollinator Week (June 20-26) and check out Debra’s post on pollinators and their favorite plants.

Autumn Jewels II

Aut Flw Tricyrtis hirta Sinonome10-6-15By Debra Knapke

I’ve often heard the complaint that autumn is dull, and all we have is mums and pumpkins.  Well, I recently went searching for jewels in my autumn garden and found not only jewels, but a plentiful array of flowers.  Below is a glimpse of these treasures.

Aut FlwTricyrtis macrantha close 10-6-15 resize Aut FlwTricyrtis macrantha plant 10-6-15 resizeThis weeping toadlily, Tricyrtus micrantha, is a rare jewel in a Central Ohio garden. In my garden since 2007, it has been a shy bloomer. But my patience was rewarded this year with this gorgeous display of 1 ½” golden bells.

Aut Flw Tricyrtis hirta Sinonome 2 10-6-15The more typical flower form of a toadlily is an open six-pointed star with six stamens (male reproductive structures) fused to a six-lobed pistil (female reproductive structure). If you look closely at the buds and stems you can see how Tricyrtis hirta became known as the hairy toadlily.

Aut Flw Tropaeolum majus Alaska Mix 10-6-15Aut Flw borage 10-6-15I do not have Michael’s zinnias, but this nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus ‘Alaska Mix’) offers a zing of orange which contrasts beautifully with its variegated leaves. An added bonus: the flower petals and leaves are edible. Borage (Borago officinalis) offers another edible flower; imagine a cool whisper of cucumber flavor. The blue flower is also a complimentary color to the orange nasturtium flower. I often plant them together as I find it to be a pleasing color combination.

Aut Flw Aster laevis Bluebird bumble 10-6-15The smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’) is one of many asters in my garden. Asters supply food to bees, butterflies and later, birds. Two asters I can’t show you, since they don’t bloom until late October.  Perhaps, a last drink for pollinators?

Aut Flw Heuchera villosa Bronze Wave 10-6-15Our beautiful native Heuchera villosa and its cultivars (above is ‘Bronze Wave’) have become one of my favorite shade to part shade plants. Tolerant of dry shade once it is established, it offers a bold foliage effect and long-lasting flowers that bloom in August until frost. The inflorescences are so heavy that they gracefully bend and intermingle with other plants. Watch for hummers when heucheras are in bloom.

Aut Flw Chrysanthemum Mei Kyo 10-6-15Last, but certainly not least, are the hardy mums. This is an old hybrid, Chrysanthemum ‘Mei Kyo’, which has graced my garden for 20 years. Its flowers are just starting to open. I will have flowers to bring inside until a hard frost sends this mum “to bed”.

Aut Flw anaemone 10-7-15Where are the beautiful hybrid anemones that often grace an autumn garden? Well, in my garden the buds and flowers have become choice edibles for my herd of deer. I did not protect the flowers so I have beautiful leaves and naked stems adorned with a few seedheads of flowers that got away.

‘Wishing you a beautiful and creative fall!

Autumn Jewels

Late Season Gifts from Nature

Autumn Jewels callicarpa 10-2-15Debra Knapke

Teresa, Michael and I meet periodically to talk about the blog: its direction and ideas for posts. We always take a walk in the garden before we sit with our coffee (Michael and Teresa) and tea (me) and plan. This time I couldn’t resist taking quick pics of what I think of as “jewel-moments” in the garden. Yes, winter is coming, but fall is my favorite time of the year, and I revel in what the garden has to offer as it moves toward sleep.

Anyone who has seen beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) seldom forgets it. The bright purple fruit clusters truly look like jewels as they float above the branches.

Michael’s has several crabapples (Malus) in his garden. Here are two that not only offer a visual treat, but feed the birds as well. Professor Sprenger crabapple (left) is covered in orange-red fruits. Candied Apple (right) crabapple has a weeping form. The branches of glossy red fruits are suspended between other plants.  Imagine beautiful streamers of soft pink to white flowers in the spring.

I have always loved the seedheads of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). Here goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) provides a lovely contrasting background. I have recreated this combination in my home for fall arrangements.  Add some purple asters and the effect is stunning.

Autumn Jewels Queen Annes lace 10-2-15

 

Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is a native grass that loves to self-seed all over the garden. It, too, is a good addition to fall arrangements. Be forewarned: they are short-lived in dried arrangements as the “oats” shatter in 2-4 weeks when in a warm home.Autumn Jewels sea oats 10-2-15

This heirloom seed strain zinnia is a jewel left over from summer.  This week’s cold spell may end their reign in the garden. As a native of Mexico, zinnias quickly decline when temperatures go below 40°F.Autumn Jewels zinnia 10-2-15

Brown is a beautiful color when contrasted with the sagey-green leaves of false blue indigo (Baptisia australis). The seedpods develop in July and persist into mid-fall.  An added bonus: they softly rattle on windy days and add an auditory experience to a garden. Cherry tomatoes are another last jewel of the summer.  The cooler temperatures have already slowed fruit maturation and tomato flowers are only a memory.

My blogmates discussing how Michael’s garden is senescing and what may change for next year’s garden. As autumn develops and I watch my own garden, I hear the echo of the famous line from Gone with the Wind: “Tomorrow is another day.”

Autumn Jewels Teresa Michael 10-2-15

 

Hello, Fall!

20140927_092612_AndroidLooking for some fall gardening inspiration?  Well, check out some of the season’s best posts on Heartland Gardening:

 

 

Catch Us If You Can

Bloggers Debra Knapke and Michael Leach are TV stars, this month.  On Fox 28’s Good Day Columbus, Debra Knapke highlighted edibles at the Heritage Gardens at the Ohio Governor’s Residence.  On another day, Michael appeared on the show to share tips on how to get a jump-start on spring gardening.  Check out his tips on planting spring bulbs, transplanting houseplants, and growing pansies and fall asters.

In the newly released fall issue of Edible Columbus, Debra writes about “Ohio Squash”  and shares tips for cool-season veggies in “What to Plant & Harvest”.  Teresa Woodard also contributes a feature, “Pumpkin Envy”, on Roger Kline who grows award-winning edible heirloom pumpkins.

 

 

 

Fall Veggie Crops

By Michael Leach

If you want fresh vegetables for Thanksgiving and perhaps New Year’s Day, start planting.

 

Most of the vegetables typically planted in spring are equally adept at producing in fall and sometimes into winter, if weather is mild. They prefer cool growing conditions, not the tropical, summer warmth that prompts tomatoes and peppers to flourish. (I’ve found peas are more prolific in fall because temps keep ebbing rather than rising.)

 

Don’t forget, growing your own food is trendy. Cold weather harvests will keep you stylishly ahead of the mere zucchini growers on the block.

 

Besides being nutritious, the bodacious foliage of kale, collards and chard play well with asters, mums and other fall flowers. ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard even sports colorful stems.

 

For best chances of success in having fresh veggies in the Thanksgiving cornucopia, keep the following in mind:

 

* Look at seed packets for the maturity date (time from sowing to harvest) and subtract from the first frost date, usually about mid-October in central Ohio. The longer the time to maturity, the sooner you need to sow for best chances of success. You may want to add a week or two to that maturity date to allow for slower growth due to lower temps and shorter days.

 

* Don’t worry about frosts or even some freezing for cold-tolerant kale, collards and Brussels sprouts. The flavor improves after a few frosts.

 

* Check garden centers for small broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants. Direct sowing seeds of these plants probably won’t beat the clock.

 

* Prep the soil before planting. Spread an inch or two of compost or other organic amendments. Scatter organic or other fertilizer at package-given rates. Till all this into the top two or three inches of soil.

 

* Use floating row cover after sowing seeds. This lightweight agricultural fabric keeps bugs off plants, yet it’s so lightweight, seedlings easily push it up as they grow.

 

I leave it on all winter for wind protection. Despite the infamous polar vortex, I harvested a few greens for bragging rights on St. Patrick’s Day. In mild winters, some greens can be picked almost every week.

 

* Plant only what you like to eat and enough to meet your family’s needs. If there is excess, donate it to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank or a local soup kitchen.

Fall Maintenance Tasks… or not

Oct. mums amsonia eupatorium changed resizedBy Debra Knapke

Being somewhat of a pragmatist when it comes to garden maintenance – do what you can, when you can – I consider recommended garden maintenance schedules to be guidelines, not rules.  Yes, you want to deadhead flowers because it will prolong bloom and it looks better.  Edged beds will delay grass and weeds from creeping into the garden bed.  But what are the tasks that must be done, could be done, and shouldn’t be done.  Let’s take a look at fall…

Must:

–  Remove all diseased leaves, fruit, branches from plants and remove all obvious diseased plant parts from the soil and mulch.  This is especially important in food gardens as you need to reduce the amount of disease spores from the area.  DO NOT place these parts in a compost pile unless it is an active pile that reaches 140° F.

–  Weed.  Many annual weeds take advantage of cooler temperatures and fall rains.  They produce seeds for the weeds of late winter and early spring.  Get a head start on eliminating late sprouting thistles and dandelions as you walk around the garden, enjoying the fall weather.  I find a cup of tea (morning) or a glass of wine (evening) to be a nice addition.

Could:

– Plant bulbs!  Depending on your location, you IMG_1514could plant bulbs now, but I like to wait until after October 1st.  Extended or late Indian Summers can cause your bulbs to send up leaves.  This takes precious energy from the bulbs.  How late can you plant?  One year I planted bulbs on December 24th and they still bloomed, but I would not recommend this as a yearly practice.

–  Pile your leaves in an area that will become a garden.   Fall is a great time to start a garden bed.  Lay newspaper or cardboard down first and then pile the leaves on.  If you collect grass clippings, add that in – although, grass clippings are best left to feed the lawn.

–  Consider leaving leaves in your more naturalized beds. seedheads Howlett 10-05 resize

–  Add leaf or mushroom compost, 2-3” thick and 3-4” from trunks and crowns, to beds where the soil is bare.

–  Take an inventory of what worked and didn’t.  This will be invaluable for when you plan next season’s garden additions and subtractions.

–  Prune trees and shrubs.  Once the leaves drop you can see crossing and broken branches, and structural problems that need to be corrected.

–  Plant trees and shrubs as long as the ground can be dug.

–  Edge your beds and get a jump-start on spring maintenance.

 

Shouldn’t:

– Remove all the mulch from an area and bare the soil. IMG_0616 resize

– Remove seedheads that provide food for birds in the winter: purple coneflower (Echinacea), goldenrod (Oligoneuron), asters (Symphyotrichum), false sunflower (Heliopsis), Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium)  and more.

–  Cut your herbaceous perennials down to the ground.  Exposed crowns are more likely to freeze in the winter.  If you cut down plants, leave some of the stems to provide a windbreak.

TOMATO ALERT – 

This year, late blight decreased my tomato harvest and of many gardeners in Ohio.  I have watched it creep (jump?) across the Midwest and have noted reports of infection in Indiana and Wisconsin.  Along with removing diseased plants and destroying them or segregating them, you need to move your tomatoes to another location.  Next year, make sure your tomatoes are as healthy as they can be with appropriate fertilization and watering practices.  This year I am going to put fresh chicken mature on the area where my tomatoes were.   I am hoping this “hot” manure will decrease fungal and bacterial spores in the soil.  This may – or may not – reduce the inoculum of late blight, but it will certainly increase the fertility for other food plants I intend to grow in that space.   Another approach is using clear plastic to solarize the soil. The best time to solarize soil is in the summer, but you may be able to catch some hot fall days or wait until the first weeks of May.  This is done in Florida to reduce nematodes.

As you can see from the above list, most of this is optional and if you get really busy, just think… you can do it all in the Spring!

 

Garden Grammar

Text by Michael Leach; photos by Teresa Woodard

The past-tense season is here. More plants in my garden are past their prime than coming into it.

However, the future tense promises abundant color for me, as perhaps for you. Autumn is a spectacle. Ironweed is beginning to IMG_1681flower. Golden rod is not far behind. Buds are plumping up on asters and hardy mums.  With luck, Monarchs will add even more visual pizzaz when the crabapples have turned burgundy, crimson and orange. That’s about the same time the flowers of autumn crocus and colchicum suddenly appear over night and the unimpressive flowers on the beautyberry or callicarpa become small fruit that look like clusters of lavender pearls. (Please share your fall favorites that flourish in your Midwest garden.)

The future also brings the golden grandeur of ancient sugar maples on the front lawn. They are but one dab on the autumn palette of tree and shrub color. Breathtaking autumn is the finale of growing season, which is always too short and delicious for me to release without a sigh or two.

When winter becomes the present tense we enter the hospital-waiting-room of seasons — time stands still (maybe runs backward), as the gray gloom plods imperceptibly toward spring.

Shudder as we might at that thought, gardeners spend little time looking over shoulders, being wistful about what was.

IMG_1705Why? Garden is both verb and noun.

This makes gardeners action people, busy in the present with an eye toward the future. We rarely stop considering ways to make our little Edens more beautiful. This will ensure the present tense, whatever the season, is lovely.

We deliberately cultivate signs of hope in the garden. Where there is hope there is life.

Guest Blog: Justin Hancock

Highlights from Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden

The Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden® is one of the coolest corners of downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Located at BHG headquarters, the Test Garden is a half-acre display of new varieties mixed with tried-and-true favorites.

Because we don’t do much spraying or treating, it’s also a fantastic tool for getting a sense of what really does well here in Iowa and the Midwest. Some reblooming hydrangeas, for example, don’t bloom at all (much less produce multiple waves of flowers) and others are garden rock stars. The hydrangea collection – about 30 varieties – is looking particularly stunning, especially standouts ‘Pink Shira’, Endless Summer ‘Blushing Bride’, and ‘Haye’s Starburst’.

I love walking through the Test Garden in summer and looking at all the different coneflowers. It’s fun to see how new varieties, such as ‘Hot Papaya’ stand up to the tried-and-true varieties. (‘Hot Papaya’, by the way, totally does — the color is a garden showstopper, and it’s delightfully fragrant, too.)

Coneflower (Echinacea) ‘Hot Papaya’

The lilies are also looking outstanding right now; the new breeds of Orienpet (Oriental/trumpet hybrids) offer good looks and a great fragrance. In fact, I smelled the intoxicating fragrance of golden-yellow ‘Belladonna’ before I saw it in the garden this morning!

Belladonna Lily

Like much of the Midwest, we’re well ahead of schedule; it’s weird to be in June and seeing the phlox, Russian sage, and even some asters blooming.

If you’d like to visit the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden®, it’s open from 12-2 p.m. every Friday from May to October and located at 1716 Locust Street, Des Moines, Iowa.

Justin Hancock is the garden editor for BHG.com, the website of Better Homes & Gardens.

Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: