— By PARKER COUNTY MASTER GARDENERS
Well, we survived another Texas summer. This one was not as bad as the past few years, and it is great to be able to get back outside in cooler temperatures to enjoy working in the garden. Fall is actually the best time to work in your garden to revive your existing landscape, as well as to think about new plants for the coming year. In this article, I will give you some tips on what to do in this perfect time of the year and suggest some plants for spectacular fall color.
Fall is the best time to reassess your landscape to see which plants really thrived and were enjoyable, and which ones did not perform so well. For those plants that performed well, you may want to think about multiplying them by root division, seed collection, or other propagation technique. Many plants propagate best in the fall. For the plants that did not perform well, ask yourself why? Perhaps your landscape has evolved, going from a sunny garden to one with more shade as your trees have grown. Maybe some plants have been affected by water restrictions, and you need to replace them with a more drought-tolerant variety. It could be that the plant is just not adapted to grow well in Parker County.
Once you have assessed the situation, you may find you need to replace some plants. Fall is the perfect time to plant shrubs, trees, spring flowering bulbs and many perennials. They will have a long cool season to establish a good root system before the heat of next summer. Also, plants are cheaper because many nurseries will be running specials to clear out their inventory before winter.
Fall is the perfect time to clean up your landscape and get ready for another year. Remove weeds from your beds before they go to seed. Reapply mulch to discourage weeds and help retain moisture. Prune your shrubs that need reshaping, and remove any dead or distressed limbs from trees and shrubs. Wait until December or January to prune Live Oak and Red Oak trees because of the threat of oak wilt fungus. Wait to prune herbaceous perennials such as flame acanthus, lantana, or Turk’s cap until after the first freeze. Then, prune these very close to the ground as no growth will occur on dead stems next year. Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs such as forsythia or bridal wreath spirea. Wait until after they bloom next spring.
Fall is the time to collect and take advantage of your lawns greatest resource. Falling leaves should be treated as gold rather than raked into garbage bags for the landfill. Leaves provide valuable nutrients when they are decomposed properly, and may reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizer in some areas. Put them in a compost pile, or shred them and use them as mulch in your landscape beds. These leaves will greatly improve soil health. Do not allow leaves to remain on top of your turf grass. Even when dormant, grass needs to receive sunlight throughout the winter months to keep the root system alive. It is important to continue to water your landscape during the fall and winter months. Simply reduce the amount since plant growth is slower during this time.
Fall is also the time to plant. There are many plants that really put on a show in the fall months:
• Salvia greggii, also called autumn sage, is a super perennial that blooms from February until the first freeze, but saves its spectacular bloom until fall. Originally only available in pink, it now comes in many colors including red, purple, white and a two-color variety called “hot lips.”
• Fall aster grows 1-3 feet tall, and for most of the year looks like a small evergreen shrub. But as its name implies, it really puts on a show in the fall when it breaks out in a stunning bloom of daisy-like flowers with lavender-blue florets surrounding a yellow center. This plant is very drought tolerant and seldom needs any supplemental watering.
• Ox-blood lily is an old-fashioned bulb that sends up red blooms on bare stalks in the fall. Also called schoolhouse lily, mass plantings of these are very effective. You can see them in many of the older homes in Weatherford.
• Copper Canyon daisy, a native of the Sonoran desert in Mexico, is very well adapted to our climate. It is a perennial shrub growing up to 3 feet high and wide. The plant has very small leaves and is not that noticeable until the fall when it becomes covered in 1-inch yellow flowers. This plant needs no water or fertilizer.
• Gregg’s blue mistflower is a small perennial with light lavender flowers that blooms from May through November. It reaches a peak bloom about the same time as the Monarch butterflies migrate through here. The plant is a butterfly magnet.
• Gulf muhly grass is an ornamental grass that has a simply magnificent bloom in the fall. It gets about 2 feet high, but in the fall it doubles in size with purple cotton-candy blooming tufts. It looks great as a specimen plant or in mass plantings.
Some other plants to try for fall include Mexican bush sage and Mexican mint marigold.
While we may not have the spectacular fall foliage of New England, there are several trees that grow well her and provide great fall colors.”
• Ginkgo tree has been around since the time of the dinosaurs. It is a very slow growing and long living tree that can reach heights of 100 feet in 500 years or so. In the fall, the leaves turn a very uniform golden yellow.
• Big tooth maple is the maple found in Lost Maples State Park, and thus is very adapted to our alkaline soil and hot climate. It can get up to 50 feet tall. It has a very showy mix of fall color in shades of burgundy, gold, orange, red, scarlet and yellow.
• Shantung maple, while native to China, is adapted to our climate. It is a mid-size tree that grows to 25 feet with a spreading canopy of foliage that turns shades of yellow, orange, purple and red in late fall.
• Other trees with good fall color include cedar elm, Japanese maple, Chinese pistache, and Shumard red oak.
You have many reasons to take advantage of our fall reprieve. Enjoy the cool evenings and the crisp morning air as you spend some quality time in your yard. In between football games, make some critical decisions about what thrives and what doesn’t in your flower bed. Spiff up and clean up for your Halloween visitors, taking full advantage of those pesky leaves. Go beyond the standard mums and shoot for spectacular with a few new plants that are real show-stoppers. The results will be worth every effort.
Have a question?
Parker County Master Gardeners, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Phone: 817-598-6168; www.pcmg-texas.org