10/17/14: In the garden this week

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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!

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