Autumn Flowers

October 15, 2014 garden at dusk 001

 

Our garden remains full of flowers. 

Allysum, planted early in April, has bloomed for seven months now.

Allysum, planted early in April, has bloomed for seven months now.

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Some, like Allysum, have bloomed since we set them out in early April.  Others, like our Camellias, have only just begun their season.

 

These Camellias bloom each autumn, and continue producing buds until early spring.

These Camellias bloom each autumn, and continue producing buds until early spring.  We are at the northern edge of their hardiness zone.

 

I’m grateful to our faithful annuals which have soldiered on, month after month, covering themselves in flowers.  If the weather never shifted, I wonder how long they would go on….

Begonias

Begonias

But we are in that unpredictable  time of transition  from heat to cold.

It was nearly 80 yesterday.  But the nights grow cold.  We’ve already needed to turn the heat on a few times this season.

Our three year old Bouganvillia has waited until this week to begin its season of bloom.

Our three year old Bougainvillea has waited until this week to begin its season of bloom.

 

Frost may come any time now; or it may wait until sometime in December to pay its first call.

Ginger Lily, entering its third month of bloom, will crumple to the ground with the first frost.  This variety is hardy here, and returns each spring.

Ginger Lily, entering its third month of bloom, will crumple to the ground with the first frost. This variety is hardy here, and returns each spring.

 

We’ve prepared the permanent winter shelter for our pots and baskets.  I’ve swept the garage and spread the holding area in plastic tablecloths.

 

Begonia, "Flamingo," grown from a stem stuck in the soil in early summer must come inside by Saturday.  The Caladiums have fallen, and must be lifted if they are to survive.

Begonia, “Flamingo,” grown from a stem stuck in the soil in early summer must come inside by Saturday. The Caladiums have fallen for the season, and must be lifted if they are to survive.

 

New this year is a line of buckets, also sitting on plastic, ready to hold then hanging baskets when I bring them in on Saturday.

The forecast promises night time lows in the 40s by the weekend….

 

Comphrey has bloomed continually now since early spring.  This perennial herb is one of the first to emerge in the spring garden.

Comfrey has bloomed continually now since early April.   This perennial herb is one of the first to emerge in the spring garden.

 

Procrastination stays my hand each time I think to move them all inside.

They grow so beautifully in this Indian summer.

 

Camellia susanqua

Camellia sasanqua

 

I want to wait as long as possible, giving them every sunny day I can.

 

Another of our many potted BEgonias which won't survive the weekend if left outside....

Another of our many potted Begonias which likely won’t survive the weekend if left outside….

 

And now each warm day, each warm night, is acknowledged  as a gift.  Each new blossom savored.  Each bee and butterfly blessed.

 

October 15, 2014 garden at dusk 029

Even as the solid green of a Virginia summer gives way to crimson and yellow, brown and orange; we see the daily changes quietly creeping through the garden.

 

Redbud has now turned golden.

Redbud has now turned golden.

 

Autumn rolls into our garden like a great, relentless wave.

 

Pyracantha berries

Pyracantha berries

 

We hear it in the early morning calls of geese and the chatter of flocking starlings.

 

Roots of our Beech

Roots of our Beech

 

We smell it in the wet Earth.

We feel the sharpness of early morning when we first go outside, and see skeletons of trees appearing here and there, leaves blown away in the night.

October 15, 2014 garden at dusk 008

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

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After the Frost

November 16 2013 after the frost 001

The ginger lilies were hit by frost early Thursday morning, and will bloom no more this season. The Lavender will remain green and beautiful through much of the winter, blooming in early spring.

Our first heavy frost came Wednesday night into Thursday morning, with a low in the 20s overnight.  We were greeted with a sparkling white lawn on Thursday morning and obvious frost kill on the ginger lilies and Lantana.  The garden does, indeed, look like a very different place than it did early in the week.  In fact, there was a distinct “seedy” air to it when friends visited yesterday to adopt a half dozen Mahonia seedlings.

The garden looks a little "seedy" at the moment...

The garden looks a little “seedy” at the moment…

Looking around the garden one might wonder where to even begin with the clean up.

And I would ask, what needs to be cleaned up, and why?   Since the garden is a wild place, and is designed to shelter birds and other small creatures, we tend to look more to maintaining the balance of the garden than to pure aesthetics.

Lambs Ears will stay green through most of the winter.  Remove any dead foliage, and keep tree leaves from accumulating on top of the plant.

Lambs Ears will stay green through most of the winter. Remove any dead foliage, and keep tree leaves from accumulating on top of the plant.

Our goal is to let every bit be used, nothing thrown away, so much as we are able.  We try to allow one season’s growth to nurture the next.

With that in mind, here is an overview of what we will do, and not do, over the next three months.

Tender perennials

Ginger lilies are left alone to collapse and mulch their how roots until at least February.

Ginger lilies are left alone to collapse and mulch their own roots until at least February.

We push the limits of hardiness by growing ginger lilies and Lantana here as perennials.  Technically, they aren’t hardy to zone 7, and in an especially cold winter, might not be.  We have found that leaving the plants in place after frost kills back the foliage helps them survive winter.  Although not beautiful, the dying leaves and stems provide insulation to the roots and so increases the chances of them living through the winter.

The ginger lilies will collapse after another few cold nights, fall to the ground, and provide a thick mulch; along with the leaves falling from the trees.  I’ll move this around so the rose roots are also mulched and simply let it be until late January or early February.  On a warmish day I’ll cut and remove the stalks, exposing the growth tips of next summer’s lilies; dig the rhizomes growing forward into the roses, and vacuum out the accumulated leaves from the surrounding trees.  The roses will get pruned back and the entire bed will get a fresh cover of compost.  I’ve already vacuumed and shredded leaves from this bed once this week, but its hard to tell that now.

Lantana are left in place until at least March to protect their roots and provide food and shelter for songbirds.

Lantana are left in place until at least March to protect their roots and provide food and shelter for songbirds.

The Lantana have grown into large woody shrubs over the summer.  The largest are over 6′ tall now.  They were in full bloom when the frost came, and so are still covered in flowers and berries.  This is a favorite spot of our songbirds who appreciate the ready food supply and the dense shelter of the Lantana.  We’ll leave these in place, just as they are, until at least March.

No, the Lantana aren’t pretty anymore.  I suppose we could string white lights over them for the holidays, but we’ve never done that.  By patiently leaving them in place through winter and into early spring we’ll protect the roots and have a better chance of enjoying them again next summer.  When the time comes to trim them back, we’ll cut them to 6″-12″, depending on the plant, and remove all of the old leaves and branches from the bed.

I generally set Violas into this bed as I remove them from pots during spring planting.  They’ll live here for another few weeks, and then die off as the Lantana fills in again.  This bed will also get a thick covering of fresh compost, some Rose Tone, and general re-working in March.  Patience is required with Lantana because they normally don’t show new growth until late April or May.

Bright rose hips form when spent roses aren't deadheaded.  These are pretty during autumn, and provide food for birds who will eat them.

Bright rose hips form when spent roses aren’t deadheaded. These are pretty during autumn, and provide food for birds who will eat them.

Roses

Roses have not died back with the frost.  We still have both leaves and buds.  They may even bloom some more over the next few weeks.  Trimming roses always stimulates growth, and so it is important to wait until early spring to prune them.  Hard pruning now could kill the plant if tender new growth dies off in a hard freeze.  Deadheading spent blooms is even optional this time of year.  Of course, in our climate, roses will continue sending out new growth over the next few months with only a short break in late December and early January.  I’ll wait until February to prune them, and will begin giving Rose Tone and Epson salts by early March.

Hardy Perennials

Seeds from hardy Hibiscus pods provide food for many birds.

Seeds from hardy Hibiscus pods provide food for many birds.

Hardy perennials like Peonies, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Iris, Hibiscus, and Chrysanthemum are often the first targets for fall garden clean up.  Browned foliage is simply cut off near the ground, tossed into a trash bag, and “Voila”, the garden looks much neater.

That is certainly one approach, but isn’t mine. 

Peony leaves are definitely unsightly now.  Since the flowers bloomed in May, they haven’t looked good for a while.   The frost finished them off, and the foliage definitely needs to get cut back before spring growth begins.

Peony foliage should be cut back in autumn, supports removed, and stored.

Peony foliage should be cut back in autumn, supports removed, and stored.

Peony crowns don’t need insulation from their own leaves, and leaving them in place can certainly encourage disease.  This is the first foliage I’ll cut on the next warm day.  I don’t bag such trimmings and add them to the trash pick up, but neither do I add it to a compost pile.  We’ll throw these trimmings  into the ravine, away from our perennial beds, along with other old foliage.

The Iris are still blooming, and their rhizomes will continue to grow all winter.  Dead leaves and finished stalks may be removed, but it is too late in the season to dig or divide the plants. 

Iris, "Rosalie Figgee" will continue to bloom into December.  She'll take a break, and bloom again in the spring.

Iris, “Rosalie Figgee” will continue to bloom into December. She’ll take a break, and bloom again in the spring.

Chrysanthemums are just finishing.  Spent flowers should be deadheaded, and in fact the plants can be cut back after the leaves are killed by frost.  If protected, new buds can still open in the weeks ahead.  Any new, potted chrysanthemums should be planted as soon as possible if you intend to keep them as perennials.  Otherwise, add them to the compost pile.

Echinacea seeds are enjoyed by many birds.  The dried cones also make nice additions to autumn wreathes and arrangements.

Echinacea seeds are enjoyed by many birds. The dried cones also make nice additions to autumn wreathes and arrangements.

Echinacea finished flowering weeks ago.  Their seeds are loved by goldfinches and other birds.  They can be left standing in the garden deep into winter.  They are sculptural, attractive to some, and definitely appreciated by the birds.

The  same is true of any Hibiscus or Rudbeckia seed pods still standing.  They can be left in place until March or April if you wish.  Collect seeds to broadcast in areas you would like new plants, or leave them to the birds.  You might even cut some Echinacea or Hibiscus to use in winter wreathes, pots, or arrangements.  It can be sprayed gold to add a little sparkle, if you wish.

Other perennials, like lambs ears, daisies, Rosemary, Sage, Lavender, and other herbs will stay green through most, or all of the winter.

This daisy should be dead headed, but the foliage left alone until new growth appears at the base in spring.

This daisy should be dead headed, but the foliage left alone until new growth appears at the base in spring.

I’ll deadhead the daisies, but leave the foliage standing until new growth appears in spring.  Herbs should have already been harvested and trimmed.  What is left can be lightly harvested all winter, or simply left alone.

Shrubs

Hydrangea needs to be deadheaded before spring.  Cut carefully above any buds so next season's flowers are left on the shrub.

Hydrangea needs to be deadheaded before spring. Cut carefully above any buds so next season’s flowers are left on the shrub.

Hydrangea blossoms dry easily.  You can collect them now for a fall arrangement.   Already dry blossoms can be sprayed gold or used as is in wreathes and winter arrangements.  There is no value to the plant in leaving them, and in fact they just look worse as the season progresses.  And, they don’t harbor any seeds for the birds.When you trim them, be careful to cut above where new buds are forming so you don’t prune off next year’s blossoms.

Wait to trim Rose of Sharon until the worst winter weather has passed.  Songbirds will enjoy their seeds through the winter.

Wait to trim Rose of Sharon until the worst winter weather has passed. Songbirds will enjoy their seeds through the winter.

Rose of Sharon is covered in little dry seed pods at present.  These can be left as an important food source for the birds as long as you wish.  I generally prune back Rose of Sharon in early spring.  Most need to be thinned and shaped before new growth begins.  Since this shrub blooms on new wood, pruning only increases the following season’s bloom.  Althea tend to be tender sometimes, and may die for no apparent reasons.  So I don’t cut them, leaving wounds exposed, until after the worst winter weather has passed.

Buddleia, butterfly bush, should also be left alone until early spring.  Not only is it covered in seeds, but it will have a greater chance of survival if left unpruned until early spring.  Cut back hard in February, almost to the ground, as it blooms each year on new growth.

This Camellia was grazed by deer sometime in the last day or so.  Although protected with Plant Skydd, after the rain it must have been palatable enough...

This Camellia was grazed by deer sometime in the last day or so. Although protected with Plant Skydd, after the rain it must have been palatable enough…

Camellias, as evergreens, are in their glory at the moment.  Many are either blooming now or preparing to bloom.  They enjoy a mulch of chopped leaves, so mulch freely as yard clean up progresses.  Their main need at the moment is protection from grazing deer.  Deer love the flower buds and will even eat their leaves.  I have sprayed mine with Plant Skydd multiple times, and will continue to do so.

Another concern is with damage done by bucks during “rutting season” in autumn.  They go a little crazy during their mating season, and rub their antlers against trees and shrubs.  The damage to this little magnolia happened last night.

Magnolia tree damaged overnight by a rutting buck.

Magnolia tree damaged overnight by a rutting buck.

  I have no idea why a buck chose to damage this particular tree, since it’s small, pliable, and not a favorite to eat.  But, he did.  Despite hours and hours spent this week reinforcing deer fences and protecting individual plants, somehow a buck  got in and stripped the bark down much of the Magnolia’s trunk.  I taped up one of the branches left hanging, and will hope for healing.  This Magnolia is special to us as our neighbor gave it to us.  Ironically, I sprayed Plant Skydd, even on this Magnolia, earlier this week.

Figs are also losing their leaves now.

Figs survivie our winters without special winter protection.  Remove fallen leaves and give the roots a little mulch.

Figs survivie our winters without special winter protection. Remove fallen leaves and give the roots a little mulch.

The plants are covered in buds for next season’s growth.  Although they need winter protection further north, the figs seem to overwinter very well here with no particular care.  Other than gathering their leaves, and possibly adding some compost or shredded leaf mulch around the roots, they will make it through winter just fine.

Hollies, Pyracantha, Cedar, Forsythia, Viburnum, and other shrubs won’t need any particular care over the next several moths.  All will appreciate shredded leaves mulched over their roots.  Forsythia still have their leaves, but I noticed a few yellow blossoms on some of our shrubs yesterday.  They normally bloom in February, so this November bloom is a mystery…

Annuals

Annual Ageratum should be clipped at the soil line and discarded.  It could be replaced with Violas for bloom through the winter.

Annual Ageratum should be clipped at the soil line and discarded. It could be replaced with Violas for bloom through the winter.

Annual flowers and herbs are past their season now.  Unless they are covered in ripe seeds, like the Basil, there is no reason to leave them any longer.  Clip at the soil line, leaving the roots  to enrich the soil.

Some annuals, like Cleome reseed freely and can become invasive.  These should definitely be removed.  Others, like this basil, will feed many hungry birds.

This basil is covered in ripe seeds.  I'll remove it, but throw the plant into the ravine where the birds will still enjoy its seeds.

This basil is covered in ripe seeds. I’ll remove it, but throw the plant into the ravine where the birds will still enjoy its seeds.

But it doesn’t have to be here.  This whole plant can be removed in the interest if tidiness and thrown into the ravine, where the birds will still enjoy the seeds.  Seeds should never be added to a compost pile, for obvious reasons.

Fallen Leaves

Living in a forest, we have leaves everywhere at the moment.  They are still falling.  Some of our neighbors are so concerned with the leaves that we hear their blowers running daily.  In fact, we shake our head in disbelief at neighbors out blowing leaves off their walk or driveway on a windy day, with leaves continuing to fall all around them.

November 16 2013 after the frost 009

Hardy Hibiscus seed heads stand out against the leaf covered forest floor.

It must be a deeply held cultural fetish to manicure the lawn and remove every fallen leaf; a concern we don’t share.   And so we have made only small efforts so far to sweep the porches and steps, clear the driveway, and remove leaves from newly planted Violas.

When most of the leaves have fallen, we’ll use a combination of broom, lawn mower and our leaf blower/bagger to tidy up around the house.   We do our best to maintain the peace and quiet by using hand tools, like a rake, when possible.

Wet leaves underfoot are definitely a safety hazard, especially when they freeze.  And wet leaves on masonry do bad things to steps and porches.  Our reality, living among deciduous trees, is that leaves blow around from place to place all winter long.  We accept them and appreciate the good things they do for the garden.

Leaves around porches and walkways can be swept, and then shredded.

Leaves around porches and walkways can be swept, and then shredded.

Leaves are extremely important  for building good soil.  As they decompose they release many important nutrients to the soil, feed earthworms and other soil dwelling creatures, insulate the ground, and hold moisture.  We either shred the leaves with the lawn mower, allowing them to mix with the grass clippings for speedier decomposition,  or suck them up with our blower.  In both cases we catch them in the appliance’s bag, and pour them out around shrubs where the mulch is needed.  Leaves are far too valuable to an organic gardener to bag and throw away. Carbon and nitrogen, along with many minerals, accumulate in the leaves throughout the summer.  These are released and enrich the soil as the leaves decompose.  When earthworms feed on the leaves, even more of their nutrient content is made available to feed other plants.

My friend has begun working on a new hugelkultur bed and will fill this area with shredded leaves, fallen branches, and other organic materials to prepare for spring planting.

My friend has begun working on a new hugelkultur bed and will fill this area with shredded leaves, fallen branches, and other organic materials to prepare for spring planting.

Shredded leaves are an important ingredient for new hugelkultur beds and for  compost piles.

Any spot where you plan to plant in spring can be covered in a layer of shredded  leaves now.  First lay down cardboard, grocery bags, or sheets of newspaper in new areas to kill off any grass or weeds over the winter, pour on the shredded leaves, and then water the pile to keep the leaves from blowing away.  This method is called “sheet composting”.   Throughout winter add coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable scraps, rinsed egg shells, and used potting soil under the leaves.  Top this mound off with a few inches of topsoil or finished compost in spring, and plant directly into this new bed.

Shredded leaves used as mulch around shrubs enrich the soil, conserve moisture, encourage earthworms, and prevent erosion.

Shredded leaves used as mulch around shrubs enrich the soil, conserve moisture, encourage earthworms, and prevent erosion.

So work done in the garden, now that we’ve had our first frost, will focus on conserving our resources and preparing for the coming season.  As we clean up what remains from this year’s growth, we will provide protection from winter’s cold, allow food and shelter for our birds to remain in place, build the soil, and prepare our beds for the coming season.  Recycling nature’s gifts enriches the garden, and makes it more beautiful and abundant with each passing year.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.

Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. ”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

After the frost, the garden is still beautiful.

After the frost, the garden is still beautiful.

Pyracantha

Pyracantha

Pyracantha berries in October

Pyracantha:  Love it or hate it.   Most of us have a strong opinion about this fast growing shrub.

We love Pyracantha  for its beautiful fall berries, more correctly called “pomes”, which turn bright red, red orange, orange, or yellow, depending on the cultivar, in autumn.  The berries are beautiful in the landscape, in cut flower arrangements and wreathes; and they attract songbirds.  Cedar waxwings, cardinals, blue jays, and many other back yard birds feast on the berries in late autumn.   Considered poisonous for humans, the berries are mildly hallucinogenic for birds.

Pyracantha

This Pyracantha shrub is over 15 feet tall and wide.

Pyracantha, closely related to Cottoneaster, is beautiful espaliered against a wall;  grown as a hedge or against a privacy fence;  or even grown as ground cover on a bank.  Its beautiful white spring flowers are an important source of nectar for bees and other nectar loving insects.  Its evergreen leaves are neat and look good year round.  Its dense, thorny habit provides great cover for birds and gives them very secure nesting sites.

These are Pyracantha’s good qualities, and reasons why I like having it in the garden.

Now, the bad:  Pyracantha is very large; is covered with very long, sharp thorns; and grows with a mind of its own.  It is a fast grower, and so may need trimming back several times in a season to keep it in check if grown near your home.  Since it blooms and sets fruit on old wood, hard pruning may mean sacrificing the berry crop for the coming year.  Once pruned, it sends up new growth in many directions at once.  You almost need “staff” to look after it properly if you want to keep it manicured.  Some varieties will reseed around the garden.  If grown near pathways, its thorns may reach out to grab you, which brings us back to its positive qualities.

October 17 2013 monarch bf 014Those same thorns which make it difficult to prune, also make it an excellent hedging plant.  If you want extra security around the perimeter of your property, Pyracantha is an excellent choice.  I once had a garden which backed along a busy neighborhood thoroughfare.  Although I had an 8′ privacy fence, I also planted shrubs on both the inner and outer sides of that fence.  Azaleas and Camellias went on the outside visible from the street, but I  grew some Pyracantha on the inside where it might be tempting to climb across.  Pyracantha grown along fences and property lines can reinforce boundaries against humans, deer, neighborhood dogs, and others you might want to discourage.

Hardy in Zones 5-9, Pyracantha grows well in a variety of soils and in anything from full sun to partial shade.  There is more berry production in good sunlight, but the plant tolerates a wide range of conditions.  Native to parts of Europe and Asia, Pyracantha is definitely an import in the United States.  It is one of those plants where many hybrids and cultivars are available to suit your need for size, growth habit, and berry color.  Once it is established, it’s drought tolerant and hardy, with few problems from disease or insects.  It doesn’t need fertilizer or any special care.

Pyrancantha berries, just beginning to turn color.

Pyrancantha berries, just beginning to turn color.

One of the nicest things is the ease with which Pyracantha roots.  I’ve taken stem cuttings in late spring (also called “prunings”), dipped the lower cut into rooting hormone, and simply stuck them a few inches into the soil where I wanted a new shrub to grow.   This is how I cultivated a hedge along that privacy fence.  After watering them in, I just kept an eye on them until new growth appeared.  Not every cutting rooted, but enough did that the purpose was served.   Keep in mind that most commonly available cultivars will grow to between 10′ and 20′ tall within five years.  If left alone, most will also get quite wide.  In fact, I am planning to take cuttings from my current plants, and hope to establish a lovely thorny hedge in the areas of the garden where the Bambis still try to penetrate our barriers.  Pyracantha is one of those shrubs we haven’t seen them grazing.

So we choose to love Pyracantha, but also keep a healthy distance from it.  I’m not a native plant purist, and so appreciate its benefits in a wildlife friendly forest garden.  We love its beautiful berries, and we love seeing the crazed antics of the birds eating them.  It is an utterly undemanding, unfussy, dependable shrub; and it shines in autumn when its berries brighten and its green leaves hang on tight into the winter.

A branch of Pyracantha berries which will ripen for the birds and turn orange in late October.

A branch of Pyracantha berries in mid-summer.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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