WHAT A CHALLENGE…The rain has yet to really let up. Many plants have drowned. If you have some plants that are dead, just know that you are not alone. Then, to make matters worse, the deer are out in droves. On September 20th, a horde of deer came in the middle of the night, and wiped me out. As many of you know, I have a section of my backyard protected by a wonderful, custom deer fence. All of my front, some of the sides and a significant portion of the back is open for all comers. And come they did. I woke up the next morning to areas that looked more like a demilitarized zone than a garden. I now had a landscape of skeletons. This time of year, I expect them to finish off my Variegated Solomon’s Seal, Wood Poppy, Annabelle Hydrangea and Begonia grandis. No surprise there. But, they also decided to defoliate my Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, Cornus alternifolia ‘Golden Showers’, a significant portion of Itea virginica, Yellow Wax Bells, Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ and even Brunnera mac. ‘Jack Frost’. On some of the plants, the foliage was already starting to shrivel and go dormant. There were others, but I wonder what is different this year. Has the deer population increased? Have some of their favorite plants in the woods died due to the rain?
Have your gardens suffered the same fate? Do you have any thoughts on this? Please take a minute to share your ideas. Why can’t they just learn to like Japanese Stilt Grass? That would solve so many problems.
LAWN AREAS…Fall is a popular time of year to work on your lawn areas. Seed will germinate quickly for new lawns or over-seeding an existing lawn. This is perfect if you have open spaces. If your lawn is in the vicinity of deciduous trees, then seeding this time of year will be a waste of time and money. Leaves are falling daily, and they will quickly smother any new growth. Best to wait for the spring.
IDEAL CONDITIONS FOR PLANTING…I love planting this time of year. Not only do I enjoy the new layout for a few months prior to winter, the plants take off with a flourish in the spring. There is generally substantial root growth that occurs over the fall and winter months. You may see perennials doubling in size. Hold off on the ornamental grasses until the spring. Sometimes the new plants don’t make it through the winter. In particular, the Pennisetums seem to have trouble. Use caution when planting evergreens in November/December. They may need extra protection from winter winds. Sometimes wrapping the perimeter of each plant with burlap will help. The broadleaf evergreens have a high probability of suffering from winter burn their first season in the garden.
CUT BACK UNSIGHTLY PERENNIALS…Most perennials will flop just before winter. Most do not have to be cut back until March, but I like to take care of a lot of the cut back in the fall in order to reduce the amount of work to do in the spring. If the upper foliage is crisping up, and you see some fresh new foliage at the base, then it will be safe to cut back the plant to the basal foliage. Echinacea, Ligularia and Rudbeckia are prime examples of plants ready to be cut back to the basal foliage right now. Whenever possible, I like to wait until the foliage goes dormant, but must admit that I sometimes jump the gun when they have flopped onto the ground.
If you prefer to leave the seed heads for the birds and other animals, know that they will all appreciate that you have left them some extra food for the winter. Leave the plants standing for best results, and just cut them back in March.
SEEDS…Do you have any plants you want to propagate? If you are able to harvest some seeds, try planting them 1-2” deep. Just deep enough to prevent them washing away with the next rain, and shallow enough to still mimic Mother Nature. This method will also prevent their movement during leaf cleanup. Do mark the location so you can try to find them in the spring.
EVERGREENS LOSING THEIR LEAVES…No need to panic. Evergreens generally shed about 30-40% of their foliage every year. The timing for the evergreens is not quite as predictable as the deciduous trees, so if your plant decides to shed at a different time than other species in the neighborhood, there’s no need to worry.
FALL COLOR…Fall color may not be as spectacular this year. All of our rain may have adversely affected the normal progression. I have already witnessed some leaves that have changed directly from green to brown. It will be interesting to see what happens.