HOW DRY I AM…This drought is the worst I’ve seen in years. We have had minimal rainfall since mid-June, and with our high temperatures, we are seeing many of our plants dying. Evergreen trees, deciduous trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses – nothing is safe. The soil is so dry and compacted, I’m concerned that if we do see some rain, most may simply runoff rather than seep into the ground. Please provide extra water whenever you can. Once we start seeing cooler temperatures, we may see an improvement, but we’ll still need extra water through mid-November, if possible.
The fall is normally a good time to plant, but unless you are prepared to provide regular water, I recommend waiting for spring.
Many plants are entering their winter dormancy prematurely. Hopefully, the majority of these are simply improving their chances to survive the drought, and will be fine come spring. There’s no need to panic just yet.
The DEER have been even more voracious than normal. They have stripped the foliage from many plants they normally leave alone. Just the other day, they ate Aesculus parviflora / Bottlebrush Buckeye, and even some Forsythia. Has the deer population substantially increased? Have the woodland plants died or entered dormancy prematurely due to the drought, thus pushing the deer into our gardens even more? Please share your observations.
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, but you will need to provide some extra water. A small amount of water on a daily basis is best. 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. BUT, THIS YEAR YOU WILL NEED TO PROVIDE EXTRA WATER. 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. Many ornamental grasses will do just fine planting in the fall, but for some reason, the Pennisetums have trouble. Sometimes the new plants don’t make it through the winter. 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. The drought has probably 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.