Posts Tagged ‘Fall’

Fall is for Ornamental Grasses

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2002 – 5:02 pm

Ornamental grasses can become an important addition to your garden. Grasses can add lasting beauty, an air of elegance and character to a yard. In the traditional landscape garden they can be interplanted with flowering perennials, particularly coneflowers and asters. Besides adding beauty to outdoor surroundings, plumes from ornamental grass can be dried for use in flower arrangements. 

They also can be used in the wildflower gardens or meadows, where they have the added benefit of attracting birds. We have found ornamental grasses not only provide shelter but food for the birds. In the Fall large flocks of migrating songbirds often descend on our grasses to feed. 

Other uses of ornamental grasses are: 

1. In containers
2. As background planting
3. Specimen planting
4. Use as a living screen
5. For groundcover 

Most of the grasses thrive in full direct sun, although a few tolerate shade. They mainly like a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Therefore, we always work organic matter into the soil before planting. Remember too that grasses are deep rooted so really dig deep. Their root system makes moving or dividing extremely difficult. 

Grasses are very hardy, pest resistant plants that require no fertilization and very little watering. We do water them during their first growing season but it is more out of habit than a cultural requirement. Since grasses grow so densely, we have never had to worry about weeds. 

In early spring before new growth begins, remove the previous year’s foliage. Grasses will begin growing earlier if foliage is removed. We have found power hedgetrimmers work very well for this. In the Spring, if the center of the clump shows little or no growth, the plant should be divided if possible. Separate and replant the vigorous growth on the outer edge of the clump. 

Some popular grasses for the home garden are: 


Varieties we recommend are:

Andropogon glomeratus ‘Bushy Blue Stem’ 
This wonderful native with flattened blue-green foliage makes a very structural statement, reaching 6 feet tall, with only a 2-3 foot spread. In early fall the plumes emerge and with the first heavy frost, the plumes take on a billowing cloud-like appearance. 

Sporobolus airoides ‘Alkali Dropseed’
Alkali dropseed qualifies as one of the least-known of the native grasses. Tolerant of drought and alkaline soils, a single plant will quickly produce a 3 feet tall by 6 feet wide clump of grey-green foliage. In Mid-Summer it is topped with graceful tall golden bronze panicles. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’
We are very fond of Panicums for two reasons, they are native grasses and they are quite beautiful. Cloud Nine tops out at 6-7 feet tall with airy panicles of gold against subtle blue foliage. We tucked this new native selection in the back of the sunny border to offer a vertical grassy form with airy fall panicles. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’
This selection of our native panicum makes a small 3 foot tall clump. The foliage is dark purple on its tips throughout the summer, but when fall hits, nice airy plumes appear. 

Chasmanthium latifolium ‘Northern Sea Oats’
This is one of the few ornamental grasses that thrives in shady conditions. Northern Sea Oats has a short basal tuft of wide grassy leaves that produces 4 foot stalks with dramatic grain-like flowers. Northern Sea Oats grow best in a naturalistic garden, either in the border or by the water. 

Calamagrostis arundinacea ‘Karl Forester’
This grass is appreciated not only for its glossy, dark green leaves but also for its graceful flower spikes which appear reddish-green in early summer and change through the growing season to a creamy white. Highly prized for its ability to add subtle texture and color in the perennial border. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’
This native switchgrass is prized for its powdery blue foliage. In late summer, billowing plumes of amber brown top the clump. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
Morning Light has very narrow foliage with a subtle white stripe that causes this plant to shimmer and glow in the landscape. This choice ornamental grass of 4-5′ sets off any sunny area in the garden. If you need a plant to stop your eye, this grass will do it. Highlights all other plants in its company. 

Pennisetum orientale ‘Tall Tails’
This vigorous, heat-loving plant makes a border-sized upright arching clump to 4.5 feet tall. The early fall plumes of tan, with a hint of pink, tower another above the foliage. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’
The wide, olive-green foliage makes the strongest vertical accent of any of the switchgrasses. This vigorous grower is topped in September with attractive narrow plumes. 

Miscanthus giganteus ‘Giant Chinese Silver Grass’
This plant quickly grows to 12 feet by early summer. In early fall, plumes rise and add to the drama of this grass. The grassy leaves are long and gracefully sway with the slightest breeze. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’
Perennial grass with white stripes on dark green leaves. Feathery flower plumes are an added feature. Excellent as a specimen or in the perennial border. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yaku Jima’
Excellent ornamental discovered on the Japanese island of Yaku Jima. Compact, clumping grass with finely textured silver-striped green foliage. Silver plums appear in late summer and remain attractive into winter. 

Grasses are fun to play with in the garden. They add vertical texture like no other plant. Ornamental grasses really come into their own in the Fall and Winter with their beautiful plumage, all the while providing food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. In the Spring the dead foliage even provides nesting material. There are so many easy to grow varieties you really cannot go wrong.

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Fall Planting of Trees

Icon Written by Geoff on September 1, 2002 – 7:32 pm

The Fall planting season for trees has arrived. If you had planned to plant trees last spring but did not get around to it, do not worry, Fall is the second best time to plant. 

This is because with cooler temperatures and shorter days, the plant is going dormant. By planting in the Fall, the tree has plenty of opportunity to establish itself before spring. Most container-grown and balled and burlapped deciduous trees are excellent candidates for Fall planting. Container-grown or balled trees can be easily planted on into October. 

Trees set in the Fall make root growth during the Fall and Winter months that enables them to become established before warm weather. Fall planting of evergreens is more of a risk because they lose moisture from needles. We recommend delaying the planting of evergreens until spring. 

Dig a hole wide enough to allow the roots to spread out without bending back into the hole. You want to encourage all of the roots to spread out and take hold in their new home. One of the best ways to do this, if the plant is in the least root bound, is to gently tear the roots before planting. 

Test to make sure the hole has good drainage. Soil in the bottom of the hole should be firmed to avoid excessive settling before easing the plant in. Add soil around the roots and use water instead of tamping to settle it. 

Once you get the tree in the ground, add a root stimulator to the water and then water thoroughly. Root stimulators contain a mild fertilizer that accelerates the development of feeder roots. Wait on the heavy feeding for Spring. Keep watering new plants until the ground freezes. 

Trees planted in areas subject to strong winds should be staked. Soft twine, strips of webbing, or soft rope may be used to tie the tree to the stakes. Mulch, 4-5 inches to help keep the roots consistently moist and withstand extreme temperature changes. 

It is sometimes necessary to move plants from one location to another. The best time to move deciduous plants is from late Fall until Late Winter. When digging a plant to be moved, try to get as much of the root system as possible. Remove one-third to one-half of the top of the plant to compensate for the roots lost at digging. 

The following trees have been tested by the Colorado State University Horticulture Department and are suitable for Fall planting. 

  1. Fraxinus americana ‘Autumn Purple’
    – A tree rapidly becoming a Michigan favorite. This tree requires low to medium watering and its foliage turns a striking shade of purple in the fall.
  2. Fraxinus pennsylvanica ‘Marshall’s Seedless Ash’
    – Suitable for street tree use. This ash turns yellow in the fall.
  3. Sophora japonica ‘Japanese Pagodaatree’
    – Pagodatree bears large creamy flowers in midsummer and bead-like pods in Fall.
  4. Quercus bicolor ‘Swamp White Oak’
    – A more handsome tree than its common name might imply. It is native to wet locations, so it adapts well to heavy clay soils. Some oaks grow very slowly, but this species is faster growing.
  5. Quercus rubra ‘Red Oak’
    – The Red Oak is notable for its glossy, dark green leaves throughout the summer which turn bright red in the fall.

Additional Fall tree choices include common hackberry, littleleaf linden and Norway maple. 

While we prefer Spring planting of trees we have never had a problem with Fall planting if done properly. Just make your selections carefully, plant correctly, and water thoroughly and often.

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Fall Weeding of Plants

Icon Written by Geoff on August 1, 2002 – 5:04 pm


It is late summer, the peak of the gardening season when we should be out strolling around the yard, enjoying our flowers in bloom. However, what am I doing, weeding! Weeding becomes the main focus of the gardening this time of year. 

Why weed at all, one man’s weed is another man’s flower? While there is some truth in this, flower beds should be kept as weed free as possible because the weeds compete with the ornamental plants for both moisture and nutrients. Even cultivated plants can grow so vigorously they can become a problem, just look at the mint family. Weeds then are plants growing in the wrong place. 

If done at the right time and with practical tools, weeding does not have to be something as enjoyable as having poison ivy. It can be a time to relax and enjoy the outdoors. We like to weed, it gives us a time to see our gardens up close and enjoy the outdoors at a leisurely pace. 

The wrong time to weed is when the sun is high and the ground is dry. Choose to weed at cooler times of the day or on cloudy days for your own comfort. When the ground is damp, the weeds will come out much more easily too. Weed the day after watering or a rain, everything will be soft and the weeds will come out with their roots intact. 

Help yourself by making weeding as easy as possible. 

1. Pull up weeds before they go to seed and spread around the garden. 

2. Try to get the whole weed including the root. Younger weeds are easier to pull because they do not have an established root system. 

3. For tap roots like dandelions pull straight up with a little pressure on either side of the stem using a tool with small V-shaped end. 

4. For weeds with shallow invasive root systems, try scraping below the surface. 

5. Mulch between plants to help prevent weeds from establishing. 

6. When weeding, always make things as comfortable as possible, use a cushion or knee pads. 

A 2 – 3 inch layer of mulch will help reduce the amount of weeding needed and will keep the soil moist. Whether your preference is shredded bark, wood chips, or last fall’s leaves all will help. We suggest visiting Martin’s Yard & Garden’s Yard Talk Past Issue “Landscape Mulches” for more information on this subject. 

A landscape fabric can be used around perennial plantings. It will let water through but keep weeds down. To improve the appearance of the mat it should be covered with mulch. 

Weeds can be removed in various ways; however, nothing is more effective than the old-fashioned way of hand picking or hoeing. The tools we have found the most useful are:

1. The Cape Code Weeder 
– The Weeder is an ideal tool for all hand weeding and cultivation, easy to use and maintain. No gardener should go without one. 

2. Offset Blade Soil Knife 
– This tool is offset to give it extra digging power after slicing into soil. Cuts roots, too. You will find many uses for this in the garden. 

3. Pointed Push Hoe 
– This push/pull hoe is by far the easiest hoe to use, we would not know what to do without them. We go through several every season. 

Two good sources of high quality garden tools we have found are: The Garden Works and A M Leonard. Whenever possible we suggest purchasing English hand forged tools as they seem to last longer and hold an edge better. 

Sometimes a weed escapes your attention until it is quite large, when pulling them can result in severe disturbance to the roots of the plants around them. Try cutting it off at the base with pruners and treat any sprouts with Round Up. 

Some weeds that grow from rhizomes and seed freely are best treated with non-selective herbicide to kill the entire plant, roots and all. A non-selective herbicide such as Roundup and Finale can be bought already mixed in spray bottles. Another method, safer around ornamental plants is to brush it on. The Sideswipe Herbicide Applicator is an easy, environmentally sound way to control weeds even on the windiest day. 

Avoid using a hand cultivator or roto tilling for weed control, particularly when the area is infested with grasses because it merely chops up the roots. These pieces will grow and cause an even greater problem. Roto tilling also brings new weed seeds to the soil’s surface were they will quickly germinate. 

Not sure what is a weed or not? The New Jersey Agricultural Weed Gallery can help you there. The Weed Gallery, is a collection of photos and descriptions of agricultural weeds found in many states. 

If you are like us a few weeds are no big thing. Our best flowering goldenrod is a native that went unnoticed until it started to bloom. Now it holds a prized place in one of our sunny gardens. 

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It’s Autumn in Our Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on November 1, 1999 – 9:10 am

A year ago today, in November 1998 Yard Talk, we talked about how Fall usually finds most plants well past their prime, but there are always a few that put on a show for us here in zone 5, in Southwest Lower Michigan. With our last frost free date being October 15th there is always plenty of time for those late blooming perennials. 

Well, not this year, Mother Nature played a cruel trick on us and we had the first of many frosts on September 19th. Fortunately, we took our own advice on Container Gardening and put a few plants into containers. It is a good thing too, as our gardens are truly bleak. 

So, instead of telling you about what is performing well in our Autumn Garden, we decided to take a different tack and talk about those plants that really out performed all others this year. These are the ones we can honestly say you should try in your garden. 

A. Eupatorium fistulosum- “Spotted Joe-Pye Weed” 
A large billowy plant we just cannot say enough good things about. Its foliage and flowers not only put on quite a show it also attracts flocks of butterflies and bees. 

B. Echinacea pupurea- “White Swan” 
A white flowering form of our native Purple Coneflower that we had about given up on until we moved it into our Shady Garden. Now it puts on a show of its own with masses of white flowers all season long. People are always asking what it is. 

C. Phlox paniculata- “David” 
A white blooming mildew resistant garden phlox which started blooming for us in June and just kept on blooming. 

D. Phlox paniculata- “Nora Leigh” 
A variegated garden phlox recommended to us for its foliage. We were told not to expect to much from the flowers. While the foliage is outstanding we think the flowers are outstanding. 

E. Rudbeckia laciniata- “Herbstonne” 
Herbstonnes along with Joe-Pye Weeds are show stoppers of our Sunny Garden. Non-stop masses of bright yellow flowers held high. People are constantly asking about this plant. 

F. Solidago rugosa- “Fireworks” 
This stunning compact goldenrod puts on a brief but exciting display in early Fall. 

Some new additions to our garden that while too young to really show their stuff show great promise are: 

A. Chrysanthemum- “Mrs Clarkson” 
This creamy yellow pom-pom flowering hardy mum all but glows in the dark. Very vigorous bloomer and long lasting. 

B. Phlox paniculata- “Delta Snow” 
Another white garden phlox with huge flower heads. 

C. Sedum- “Frosty Morn” 
A variegated plant with mint green leaves with a large creamy band that really stands out on those dark Fall days. 

D. Vernonia noveboacensis- “New York Ironweed” 
Intense purple blooms held high on 7-10 foot plants.

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Fall Container Gardening

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 1999 – 4:59 pm

Well, here it is fall again in the gardens. It just seems like yesterday we were all sitting around the kitchen table watching the spring rains washing away the last traces of winter’s snow. Their are just so many tasks we still must do before winter shows itself again. Flowers to be dried, nuts and berries to be harvested, roses to be winterized, and tender plants to be potted and brought in. We have been using more containers in the garden the last few seasons. Container gardening allows you to grow plants in places where in-ground gardening is not practical or possible, such as patios, terraces, balconies, decks, porches and rooftops. Since container gardens are portable, you can simply move the containers to a frost free location. We usually manage to bring in a few spiders, crickets, toads and an occasional chipmunk. 

Gardening in containers is ideal for people with limited garden space or a lack of time for gardening. Containers provide splashes of color throughout the yard and can be planted with mixtures of flowers, herbs and vegetables. Need some color for that evening patio party? Simply move in the container plants. A little more rearranging and you have a bright cheery nook for the morning brunch. Stack them on blocks, bury them in the ground, hide them away in the permanent plants, their use is only limited by your imagination. 

Gardening in Containers is an exciting option for those who:

  • Have small spaces for gardening.
  • Want colorful accents to place around the home or apartment.
  • Cannot comfortably kneel or bend.
  • Have limited mobility.
  • For busy gardeners, cooks, plant lovers.

Thanks to containers, just about anyone can have a garden. Even apartment dwellers without a garden plot nurture miniature flower beds in window boxes safely secured to sills and ledges. Container-grown succulents and small trees are also likely to be moved from here to there, filling gaps as the season progresses. In island beds, a single antique urn becomes an eye catching centerpiece; smaller pots and recycled containers, on the other hand, look best displayed in groups, near the base of an outdoor staircase. 

These days, the choice of containers is limited only by a gardener’s imagination. Graniteware basins, food-storage tins, shoes, baseball caps, and a host of other flea-market finds look no less charming than a costly hand blown glass container. We still like the old time hand thrown clay pots for our garden, they seem to have a charm of their own. No matter what your container choice is, all pots must have good drainage. Without it, roots rot and plants die. 

Do not use garden soil for containers! Even the best garden soil is not the right choice for container growing. They will not provide adequate drainage and contain disease organisms, bacteria, and weed seeds. Garden soils also compact into heavy masses, preventing root respiration and fertilizer absorption. Your mix should be light and airy. It should retain moisture and nutrients and be quick to drain. To reduce root rot problems, use the same mix throughout the pot. While you can mix your own, we would suggest using a commercial mix such as Redi-Earth or Jiffy Mix. Unless you use large amounts or enjoy working with different soils it is just easier and more economical to purchase a mix. A good list of soil recipes, soil blends or potting soil recipes can also be found at the Backyard Gardener’s site at 

Plants in containers need frequent watering. They may require several waterings a day during very hot weather. Soil in containers dries out much more rapidly than soil in the garden. The best way to decide when to water is to check every day by inserting your fingers into the top few inches of soil. Clay or terra cotta containers dry out faster than plastic containers, with baseball caps and sneakers somewhere between. Moisture retenders can be added to the soil that grab and hold large amounts of water molecules and then slowly release it. They greatly increase the moisture retention of the soil without clogging it up. They are available under a range of brand names, such as “Water Grabber.” In very dry locations you can put one container inside another larger container and pack the space between with gravel, dry peat, or perlite to slow loss through the sides of the pot. 

Container plant roots cannot grow deeper or spread out in search of food. You must compensate for their smaller root area by feeding them more frequently. Use a well-balanced fertilizer such as “Miracle Gro,” or “Rapid Gro.” Organic gardeners will have fine results with a combination of manure tea or fish emulsion and liquid kelp. Be sure that whatever fertilizer you use, it is well-balanced and contains not only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but essential trace elements as well. Shepherd’s Seeds has a wonderful informative web page on container gardening at that we recommend going to. 

We always dread having to bring in all the house plants and other container grown plants, there just never seems to be enough room. Of course, it does not help that not only have the numbers increased through the years but, our collection now includes a few trees. Then again, as we look out over late winters’ landscape, dull and grey, it is good to have some green things around.

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Autumn in Our Gardens

Icon Written by Geoff on November 1, 1998 – 8:54 am

November finds most of our garden plants well past their prime. Only the hardiest annuals and perennial’s survive into November here in Zone 5, in Southwest Lower Michigan with our last frost free day being around October 15th. Those plants that make it into November usually put on quite a show. 

As we look out into our gardens, here and there a mule marigold or nicotiana pokes out its head. Even an occasional begonia can be seen in protected pockets. For the most part, annuals are gone for the year. 

The ornamental grasses are still looking good, particularly in the morning sun, aglow with nature’s frost. In particular Panicum virgatum “Nine Clouds” stands out althoughMiscanthus snersis “Morning Lite” is not far behind. Team these two with some taller Artemisia such as “Silver King” and you really have a Late Fall show. 

It really is the perennial’s that take center stage in late fall. Our Chrysanthemums Clara Curtis are just at their peak. Five foot mounds of brilliant clear pink three inch flowers. Clara Curtis will survive the coldest of fall weather. In our gardens, it is not unusual for them to keep blooming well into December. Usually, it takes a heavy snow fall to finish this show. An added treat this season was the first blooming of our Eupatorium rugosum “Chocolate.” Until now, we have only had a few weak blooms but that has all ended. They are covered with clusters of creamy white flowers that are carrying well into November. 

We know it cannot last forever; but, for now, at least we have some color left. Who knows, maybe they will last until the Witch Hazel start to bloom. For now, we continue preparing for next season and, of course, we have our birds to watch.

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Fall Leaves

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 1997 – 8:25 am

  Who can but marvel at the beauty of a flaming red maple decked out in all of its Fall splendor? Fall in Michigan is truly a work of art.  Unfortunately, these same gorgeous leaves present many problems to the homeowner once they fall. Leaves provide not only a natural haven for insects and disease, but cut off sunlight and oxygen to our lawns. Some leaves, such as walnut and cherry, are actually toxic.

We suggest using leaves as a mulch for gardens and flower beds. Any excess leaves you can always share with a neighbor or use in composting. As a last resort, place them out at the curb for the city to collect. Be sure to pile them so as not to block the storm drains or bike paths.

An excellent web site on composting can be found at http://aggie We recommend anyone interested in composting take time and visit this site.

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