Autumn unfolds

I started to show you pictures of fall color on September 11; it’s six weeks later and our local trees are just reaching their peak. The sugar maples (orange) and hickories (yellow) are particularly beautiful this year. I’m not fortunate enough to have either–the soil is wrong for them in this part of Glen Rock–but I do have dogwoods, Virginia creeper, and lots of native perennials that show lovely fall color. So here’s what’s happening in my garden now.

_DSC8229

_DSC8239

Virginia creeper ranges in color from a delicate peach to the deepest Bordeaux. And sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa), a ridiculously easy-to-grow native plant with bright, bright yellow flowers in early summer, puts on a second show in fall, when its foliage becomes speckled with red.

_DSC8245

Thoreau sketched the beautiful arrangement of milkweed seeds in their pods. It’s fascinating to watch the clusters of seeds slowly unfold as the wind teases them apart. This fascinating process is happening in my garden right now. Sometimes I watch and forget to collect the seeds.

_DSC8303

And finally, about 20 years ago we planted five everbearing raspberry canes from Burpee, because we love raspberries. When my now grown-up sons come home to visit, they still go outside to look for raspberries. Although the canes are crowded by perennials on one side and the mini-forest on the other, they continue to produce fruit every year. The catbirds in particular adore them, and in fall, when they’ve left for the season, we manage to eat a few raspberries ourselves.

_DSC8234

A little hint of early summer in the middle of fall (complete with fruit fly). And notice the Rudbeckia seedheads on the left.

It’s not too late to put in some raspberries. You could be enjoying your own crop next year.

Advertisements

10/17/14: In the garden this week

_DSC8078

For once, the picture really doesn’t capture it. I wish I could convey the exact shade of pink/orange/red/scarlet of the leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). I guess you’ll just have to grow it for yourself. It’s spectacular. The only vine that rivals it as a foliar flag is our old friend poison ivy. To find out why vines, in particular, turn such brilliant colors, look at this post.

We tend to think of autumn as a time of dormancy, but plants are extremely busy with winter preparation. Some things they do are obvious, such as when the huge acorns of northern red oaks or swamp white oaks hit the roof (some parts of Bergen County are having a mast year now; we had one around here last year). Autumn colors mean that plants are stopping photosynthesis, withdrawing green pigments and revealing other underlying colors. Next year’s buds have formed, and many perennials are putting out rosettes of new foliage. Some fruits are very prominent, some are already gone, snatched up eagerly by migrating birds. The plants are working hard to prepare for winter, taking advantage of the autumn sunshine.

Here’s what you can be doing now, in addition to admiring all the hard work your plants are doing:

water newly installed perennials and woody plants and vegetables as needed. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells, but we received a good soaking this week (3 inches of rain according to my yogurt-container rain gauge), so hold off for now.

do not prune woody plants. Trees and shrubs are carrying out leaf abscission, the complicated process of shutting down for winter. (That’s what makes those lovely colors.) This process takes a lot of energy, so plants don’t have energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next pruning window will come when plants reach dormancy in late fall.

– harvest fall crops such as lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens. Harvest winter squashes. Remove spent plants. Do a thorough clean-up of the vegetable garden. Do not compost diseased or pest-infested plants. Spread a layer of compost over the vegetable garden to prepare the soil for next year.

established perennials should need no care. Leave seedheads in place–birds will eat the seeds you don’t collect.

save your autumn leaves for compost. Decide where you will keep them. Consider mulching them into your lawn as fertilizer; this is easy to do with a mulching mower.

consider fall planting. It’s getting to be a bit late to plant perennials, but many woody plants can be planted until the ground freezes.

Relax and enjoy the beautiful autumn colors!

Three forests

Northeastern North America wants to be forest: we’ve got a temperate climate and moderate rainfall, and before people settled the area in large numbers, there was pretty much unbroken forest. Areas that burned or blew down would revert to forest as soon as the trees had time to grow again. If you leave a strip of land alone today, you’ll get forest. Forest is a given.

So forests are the basis of our ecosystem. And they provide invaluable services: they clean the air, moderate the temperature, and slow the flow of groundwater, which reduces flooding. If you’re trying to create a more sustainable and natural environment than the typical suburban backyard, you’re probably going to replace some lawn with trees and shrubs: you’re going to plant a forest. So let’s talk about forests.

Forests are ecosystems, so they contain plants, animals, fungi, soil, rock, and water. They have a three-tiered structure: a canopy layer made up of tall trees; an understory layer made of immature trees, low-growing trees, and shrubs; and a floor made up of ferns, grasses, and flowering plants. Vines tie the layers together. There are all different types of forests: wetland forests, upland forests, northern and southern swamp forests, each with distinctive suites of plants and animals. If you see oaks and hickories in the canopy, look for flowering dogwood, blueberries, and mapleleaf viburnum in the mid-height layer; wild turkeys and blue jays eating the nuts; and, in spring, lots of native wildflowers.

Here’s a picture of a nearby upland forest at Campgaw Mountain Reservation in Mahwah:

_DSC8134

This is a lovely mixed upland forest made up primarily of oaks and sugar maples. But note how open it is. The shrub layer and understory are mostly missing, because there are too many deer and not enough predators. and because the native shrubs and wildflowers are missing, many parts of this forest are overrun with invasives. The slight tinge of green you see on the forest floor in this picture is stiltgrass, a highly invasive Asian grass that’s taken over in many local forests.

As a comparison, here’s a nearby forest with much of its structure left intact:

_DSC8194

This is the Thielke Arboretum in Glen Rock, which contains a beautiful wetland forest. The canopy is quite mixed, but the dominant tree is red maple. The understory includes spicebush and clethra, and the forest floor is very diverse, with several species of ferns and many different wildflowers that bloom from early spring through fall. Invasives are continually coming in from all sides (and from the sky, as birds drop their seeds), but volunteers keep at least a small area clear, and new natives continue to pop up. This forest is a treasure; I encourage you to visit it in all seasons.

Here’s the third forest I want to show you. You’ve seen this picture before:

backyard-may-08

This is my backyard miniforest, which replaced a hot, sunny lawn. We planted the trees and shrubs, a mixed bag of canopy and understory trees chosen for maximum diversity in a very small space; the understory came up on its own once the grass died. Violets, ferns, native grasses, common lobelia, and Virginia creeper all popped up once we stopped mowing. English ivy, Norway maples, and lots of lawn weeds continue to pop up as well and must be weeded out each spring, but that’s the only maintenance the forest requires (except for winter pruning every two or three years). Most suburban homeowners could create something like this and let their land become what it wants to be: forest.

10/10/23: In the garden this week

_DSC8187

In this small corner of one of my shady shrub islands, you see ferns, asters, Heuchera, an oak seedling that I didn’t notice until I cropped this photo, and a columbine that’s turned a lovely shade of lavender. Gorgeous.

While you’re admiring your handiwork in your garden this weekend, you might also consider some autumn chores:

water newly installed perennials and woody plants and vegetables as needed. The recommended amount is 1 inch per week during dry spells, but we received a good soaking this week, so hold off for now.

do not prune woody plants. Trees and shrubs are carrying out leaf abscission, the complicated process of shutting down for winter. (That’s what makes those lovely colors.) This process takes a lot of energy, so plants don’t have energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next pruning window will come when plants reach dormancy in late fall.

— harvest fall crops such as lettuce, spinach, and other salad greens. Harvest winter squashes. Remove spent plants. Do a thorough clean-up of the vegetable garden. Do not compost diseased or pest-infested plants. Spread a layer of compost over the vegetable garden to prepare the soil for next year.

established perennials should need no care. Leave seedheads in place–birds will eat the seeds you don’t collect.

save your autumn leaves for compost. Decide where you will keep them. Consider mulching them into your lawn as fertilizer; this is easy to do with a mulching mower.

consider fall planting. It’s getting to be a bit late to plant perennials, but many woody plants can be planted until the ground freezes.

And get out into the woods this Columbus Day weekend to admire the foliage. The sugar maples and hickories are turning color in many nearby woods. We took this photo in Campgaw Mountain Reservation this week:

_DSC8177

And still more fall color (plus some fruit and late flowers)

_DSC8122

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is gorgeous at all seasons, but its fall color is perhaps best of all. A few inner leaves are the first to show color; soon the whole plant will be ablaze.

_DSC8091

Most dogwoods and viburnums turn various shades of dark red (this is flowering dogwood, Cornus florida). The colors are somewhat muted this year, but still quite lovely.

_DSC8053

Some plants just don’t want to quit. This photo of Rudbeckia triloba, my favorite of the clan, was taken yesterday. It’s been in bloom since July, and its seeds won’t ripen for a while yet. I’ll know because the birds will start eating them.

_DSC8116

Fruits of coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) ripen late–they’ve just turned color. This is a low-growing, very adaptable shrub that I use to fill in my mixed tree-and-shrub islands. It does very well in shade. Coralberry is one of a number of woody plants that hold their bright-colored fruits all winter. Others include the hollies, such as winterberry (Ilex verticillata, with brilliant red berries) and inkberry (i. glabra, black berries).

A heroine takes an autumn walk

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

Her musings are interrupted by the sight of the man she loves flirting with another woman. After listening to a few minutes of their “lively chat,” our heroine, Anne Elliot,

could not immediately fall into a quotation again. The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by—unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, all gone together, blessed her memory.

But wait. that’s not all:

after another half mile of gradual ascent through large enclosures, where the ploughs at work, and the fresh-made path spoke the farmer, counteracting the sweets of poetical despondence, and meaning to have spring again . . . .

Jane Austen (you knew it was her, right? these quotes are from Persuasion) will not leave her heroine or the reader in despair. The world is too beautiful for that.

DSC_1541