Consumer E-Newsletter - 09/29/2006 (Plain Text Version)
In this issue:
Loving Your Leaves: Prepping Your Garden for Fall
Fall conjures up thoughts of simmering apple cider, football afternoons, and piles of freshly raked crispy leaves. And more leaves.
No matter what part of the country you call home, it’s important to spend time in the next month or two getting your lawn and garden ready for winter. There also are some new perennial and annual varieties available to give added color and punch to your garden this fall — and to plant for next spring. NAHB HouseKeys talked to gardening experts in Maryland, Nebraska and Florida to get ideas for home owners.
Should you rake as the leaves fall or wait till they’re done? Sorry, but get out the rake once a week, says Donna Shipp, perennials manager at American Plant Food, a nursery and plant store in Bethesda, Md.
“I know, it’s tough, and people can’t believe it. But if you don’t, the leaves will lay on the turf and press it down, and bad things can happen, like fungus growth on the grass under the leaves,” she says.
What else should home owners work on this season? “They should certainly be seeding their lawn if it needs it, and probably fertilize,” Shipp says. She recommends a slow-release fertilizer — for instance, an organic product made from poultry or cow manure, crab chum, sludge or even cocoa bean husks — needs the help of microorganisms in the soil to break down. Traditional chemical fertilizers wash away more quickly, entering the storm water drains before they do much good for the grass, she said.
Trim the grass, too. Shipp recommends two inches in height for blue grass, slightly shorter for fescue. And don’t forget to water it this fall, especially if your community has suffered any drought over the summer.
Clean the weeds out of the flowerbeds and remulch them as necessary, but be careful not to put in more than an inch or two of shredded bark or other organic materials. Shipp sees neighborhoods full of maple and oak trees surrounded by a pyramid of fresh mulch and perennials. The combination makes it difficult for the tree’s roots to reach oxygen, slowly choking the life out of most trees. Home owners look out to see a dead tree surrounded by a circle of sunny flowers. “I call it the death ring,” Shipp says cheerfully.
But all lawn work and no play makes the garden a little dull, especially now that those summer annuals have finished blooming. Don't store away those big terracotta pots yet, Shipp advises. Fill them with traditional mums for fall color, or with some new perennials that act as colorful fall annuals in the Mid-Atlantic. “Fall-blooming anemones, blue plumbego, ornamental grasses — pot them up and put them out,” she says.
Floridians Prepare, Too
“Now, the annuals we used in California in summer thrive here in the winter, and wilt by the time July and August roll around,” Yakish says. "However, that doesn’t compare to what the summer afternoon showers can do to them. Several inches of rain in an hour, or every afternoon for a month or so can just mash then into the ground. It takes a tough plant to survive this kind of treatment.”
For Yakish’s clients, October is the early season, January mid-season and March is late season, with most annuals petering out by August. Fall is a time to start again, he says.
“Impatiens are a definite winter annual and can be impressive in large masses, although often there aren’t a lot of colors available and gardens can tend to look alike,” he says. Wax begonias are a better substitute for impatiens and require less water and a longer season. Other drought-tolerant annuals such as gaillardia, verbena and gaura are mid to late season with salvias good early to late season. Begonias can last through the summer if the heat and humidity are mild.
Fall in the Plains
Planting perennials is a great fall activity because the plants will have a stronger root system next spring than the ones you pick up at the nursery in April or May. “You should avoid planting the ornamental grasses, though. Wait till spring for those,” he says.
One perennial gaining in popularity is Catmint Walkers Low, a blue-flowered plant with scented foliage. It’s 18 inches high and spreads to 24 inches long, blooms all summer and is rabbit and deer resistant, Berry points out. Coleius plants are also back in fashion, as well as “antique” plants like purple heart and elephant ears.
Another perennial to pay attention to is the hydrangea variety Endless Summer. “It’s the first national release of a hydrangea that blooms on new wood,” Berry says. “Most hydrangeas bloom on the previous season’s growth, and in areas of the country where many hydrangeas froze to the ground last year, there were no new blooms this year. For us Northerners, this is quite a deal.”
For shade gardens, heucheras, also known as coral bells, are now available in a wide variety of leaf colors and shapes for summer-long interest. Varieties are available with variegated foliage in lime, black, yellow and red in addition to dark green.
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