Autumn marks a time of changes. Summer’s many repetitive long muggy days of similar routines, green trees, kudzu “sculptures”, and tasty tomatoes, give way for trees and shrubs to put on a color show, for us to put the vegetable beds to rest and make plans for its future. After the brutal heat of August, I have never wished more for fall to finally come than this year.
Deciduous shrubs and trees are preparing to shed their leaves which need dropping before winter. While evergreen plants are adapted to hold most of their leaves or needles through the cold months, deciduous leaf cells would burst like a can of soda in the freezer.
The length of the days vs. nights is their signal to start drawing down their nutrients from their leaves into their roots to store until they can flush out in the spring. We watch this process with our own eyes because this process the fantastic display this time of year as the green chlorophyll breaks down first.
With the vibrant chlorophyll gone, the other pigments, there all along, are revealed. Yellows from xanthophyll, oranges from carotene, reds and burgundy from anthocyanin and every mix of these. You can imagine that variations in our rainfall and summer to fall temperature can affect the timing and endless combinations of these pigments year on year.
Some landscape management tasks to help deciduous plants overwinter are,
1. Reduce watering that is under your control. There is no need to get the garden hose out since you don’t want to stimulate new tender growth. Deciduous plants must reduce the water in their stems during autumn to prepare for frost.
2. Do not do any heavy pruning on deciduous or evergreens. Pruning stimulates new tender growth which will exhaust the plant as sunlight hours dwindle and it will not have time to harden off before winter.
3. Do not fertilize evergreen or deciduous plants in the fall. Fertilizing will also stimulate new growth which will not be supported in the short days. New tender growth would not have time to prepare for freezing temperatures. This is also my recommendation for indoor plants which may not be as affected by temperatures but are at the mercy of the length of the day unless under an artificial grow light.
Lastly, leave your seed heads and browned perennials to overwinter. Cleaning the flowerbeds can wait until spring. This will protect the soil from compaction due to harsh rains and will provide food and shelter for wildlife with their seeds and hollow stems.