By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
This is my autumn — finally — and when temperatures dip into the 70s, gardening can be such a pleasure. For me, it’s close to perfect!
Planting hardy perennials and woody shrubs and trees in the cooler months will result in more resilient plants; they have time to develop healthy roots systems before the spring growth flush. If you need to do more than plug in a few new plants, you might consider hiring a landscape designer or other professional. There are some steps you can take to make the process easier, so check out https://tinyurl.com/4j2td9vb. There you will find helpful advice on what to expect from the range of professionals that work in our yards. Even the person that does your weekly “mow, trim, and blow” should follow good working practices, and you can see from the recommendations in this article what you can reasonably expect.
With cooler weather you will find that grass grows more slowly, and it won’t need mowing so often. It will also need less water. Pay attention and you will be doing it a favor by adjusting your schedule to its needs. This is worth discussing with whomever mows your lawn, so you are on the same page.
The cool season vegetable garden is coming into its own. Keep on top of scouting for pests, even though they should be minimal. Insects that were feeding on your summer crop will have reached different changes in their life cycles, and many will be hidden in the soil or leaf litter. Others find winter homes in rotting wood, hollow stems or cracks in tree bark, or have left their offspring to develop until next year. Wherever and whatever they are, collectively they are a healthy part of our garden ecosystems.
This leads me to encourage you to avoid raking up leaves and disposing of them at the curb. Instead, leave them around plants and under trees and shrubs, keeping stems and trunks clear. If you need to clear your lawns of a heavy leaf fall, either add them to a compost pile, or make a separate heap in an out of the way place. There they will slowly rot down and produce leaf mold. This isn’t, as the name suggests, something nasty, but a valuable soil amendment which you can use in your landscape much as you would use compost. To speed up the process, run over the leaves with a mower before making the pile. No one clears the leaves that fall in our forests; they are ultimately the “fertilizer” on which the forest and myriad creatures depend.
Have you noticed that some spiders have their season? I think it’s now, at least in my garden. My latest find is a green lynx spider. Its web is not the traditional “Charlotte’s Web” type but is simply loosely threading together a few flowering stems of large-flowered false rosemary (Conradina grandiflora). This plant is a late bloomer and is attracting a good variety of small pollinators, which the spider must be enjoying. She’s a hunter rather than a trapper, hence the style of her web. Since I first saw her, she has laid her eggs and is guarding the egg sac! If you like spiders — and some of us do — here’s an article about some of our common species, including the green lynx: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN017.
Fall color must surely be imminent. The USDA explains why and how this occurs: https://tinyurl.com/vkd2kyx8. In our area, we don’t see the same impact as our friends farther north, but we can choose some of our landscape plants for fall color if we do some research. Most of the crepe myrtles have lovely fall foliage, ranging from yellow through red, which makes them attractive for much of the year (https://tinyurl.com/ymc58hz3). Fingers crossed my young Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) will be more colorful this year, after its leaves turned brown and not red last year.
Fall is a lovely season in so many ways; enjoy it while it lasts!