Japanese Maple tips for fall foliage

 If the foliage on your  Japanese maple recently dried up before turning color or during the process, the following question I recently received may be of interest to you. The reader  was concerned because he had had some dieback in early spring while his maple was leaving out.  So when his tree fritzed this month he thought the tree might be having more fungal problems.

Leaves change color when they are going into winter dormancy.  When nights get long enough, leaves  develop a corky layer of cells between the leaf stalk and the woody part of the tree.  This slows the transport of water and carbohydrates.  The manufacture of chlorophyll is slowed and the green color of the leaves begins to fade, allowing the other pigments to show through.  Since the transport of water is slowed down, food manufactured by the remaining chlorophyll builds up in the sap of the leaf and other pigments are formed which cause the leaves to turn red or purple in color, depending on the acidity of the sap. 

 For example, sumacs and California wild grape almost always turn red because red pigments are present and their leaf sap is acidic, While many of the oak and sometimes ashes will get a purplish color because the sap is less acidic.  Trees like birch don’t have much orange pigment, so they appear mostly yellow in the fall.  Others don’t have much yellow pigment, and turn mostly orange or read.  Some trees have a balance of pigments and look pinkish.  The brown color or many oaks can be attributed to a buildup of tannins which is a waste product in the leaves. 

Getting back to that poor Japanese maple with the dried up leaves,  the whole process of fall coloring can be disrupted by wind and rain coming at the wrong time.  Japanese maples have a more delicate leaf than some of other trees and are more susceptible to the elements of nature at this time. Rain and wind during the display will put a quick end to the autumnal display.  The good news is that your maple will be just fine next year.

Japanese Maple tips for fall foliage

 If the foliage on your  Japanese maple recently dried up before turning color or during the process, the following question I recently received may be of interest to you. The reader  was concerned because he had had some dieback in early spring while his maple was leaving out.  So when his tree fritzed this month he thought the tree might be having more fungal problems.

Leaves change color when they are going into winter dormancy.  When nights get long enough, leaves  develop a corky layer of cells between the leaf stalk and the woody part of the tree.  This slows the transport of water and carbohydrates.  The manufacture of chlorophyll is slowed and the green color of the leaves begins to fade, allowing the other pigments to show through.  Since the transport of water is slowed down, food manufactured by the remaining chlorophyll builds up in the sap of the leaf and other pigments are formed which cause the leaves to turn red or purple in color, depending on the acidity of the sap. 

 For example, sumacs and California wild grape almost always turn red because red pigments are present and their leaf sap is acidic, While many of the oak and sometimes ashes will get a purplish color because the sap is less acidic.  Trees like birch don’t have much orange pigment, so they appear mostly yellow in the fall.  Others don’t have much yellow pigment, and turn mostly orange or read.  Some trees have a balance of pigments and look pinkish.  The brown color or many oaks can be attributed to a buildup of tannins which is a waste product in the leaves. 

Getting back to that poor Japanese maple with the dried up leaves,  the whole process of fall coloring can be disrupted by wind and rain coming at the wrong time.  Japanese maples have a more delicate leaf than some of other trees and are more susceptible to the elements of nature at this time. Rain and wind during the display will put a quick end to the autumnal display.  The good news is that your maple will be just fine next year.

Happy Thanksgiving

 Soft magenta clouds streak the sky as the sun sets over the valley and a full moon rises over the eastern  ridge.    The clouds are as dramatic as the geological formations found here.  Desert holly, mesquite and creosote are as common as redwood trees are to our area.  Botanically speaking, I couldn’t be farther from the Santa Cruz mountains.   I’m in Death Valley exploring an area whose growing season is from September to May due to the extreme summer heat.   There are 1200 springs throughout the valley and surrounding mountains  supporting wildlife and plants.    There’s water here but in isolated areas.

 
 After returning,  I’m struck with the lushness of our subtropical home.  You probably get this same feeling when you get back from a vacation.  We live in paradise.  Whether you live in oak woodlands, chaparral, or a redwood / mixed evergreen forest we are blessed  to live here.  We are thankful for our neighbors and community, our flora and fauna, our wonderful climate and our gardens.     I came across this poem of Thanksgiving and thought you might like it, too. 

BE THANKFUL

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire.
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something,
for it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations,
because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge,
because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes.
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary,
because it means you’ve made a difference.

It’s easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who
are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles,
and they can become your blessings.

~~Author Unknown.~~

 

Gift Ideas for the Holidays

 It’s not too early to start planning for gifts to give for the holidays.  You might be putting together something quick to give to the hostess on Thanksgiving or planning ahead for Christmas presents.  Here are a  couple of ideas to consider:

 Colorful chard, kale, lettuce and spinach are not only nutritious and delicious, they’re also beautiful.  With food prices going higher and higher ,  plant up of pot of living greens in a container  to give as a gift.  Choose a container at least 12" wide and fill with potting soil.  If you plant from cell packs now they’ll be full next month to give  but even if you put a couple of herbs or veggies in a pretty pot  now they’ll be appreciated.  Bright Lights chard would look great by itself in a glazed pot.

These leafy greens can be harvested over a long period of time by gently tearing off the outer leaves and allowing the center to continue growing.  With food prices going higher and higher,  even someone who has never grown veggies before will appreciate a gift like this.  Plant up a couple for yourself, too, to have by the kitchen door.

For those of you that have a cool season veggie garden already in progress, it’s time to fertilize them to increase production.   

Give a bouquet from your garden to dress up a Thanksgiving table.  Right outside your door you can find plenty of fall leaves and berries and even a couple of flowers if you’re lucky.  Mexican bush sage are still blooming as are lion’s tail,  maybe a few cosmos, Japanese anemones and asters. Ornamental oregano holds up well , too, especially the variety Santa Cruz.    Foliage can be a key player and might be found from smoke bush, ornamental grass, purple hopseed, crape myrtle, Chinese pistache, oaks, maples and liquidambar.   Dogwood leaves would be beautiful as would ornamental pear.  Berry accents are a staple for a fall bouquet and you might have nandina, cotoneaster,  hawthorn,  dogwood or  crabapple in your garden.  Go out and fill a brown shopping bag with whatever strikes your fancy to create a beautiful fall bouquet to give or dress up your own table or entry.  Your arrangement should last about 4-7 days in a moderately cool room. 

I like to start hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator in pretty colored hyacinth jars to give as gifts.  Make sure the water barely touches the bottom of the bulb or it may rot.  It usually takes 6 weeks or so for the jar to fill with roots before you bring it out and place in a bright spot gradually so it can acclimate to the light.  Their fragrance is incredible.

Forcing narcissus bulbs is simple and make a classic gift that  can perfume an entire room.  Flowers take 4-6 weeks from the time you plant them to set buds so start them now.  You can plant them in a shallow pot filled with potting soil or nestled slightly in pebbles or sand in a water tight jar.   An interesting container from the thrift shop would make your gift unique.

Allow the plants to grow under cool, bright conditions to keep their stems compact and strong.  Stake flower stems if they start to flop over or you can give them a diluted solution of alcohol to keep stems and leaves 1/3 to 1/2 shorter than those growing in plain water.  The key thing is to let the bulbs develop roots in water and stones to anchor the roots as usual until the shoots rise 1 to 2 inches above the top of the bulb.  Then pour off the water and replace it with a solution of water containing 4 to 6% alcohol such as gin, vodka or rum. To get this percentage from an 80 proof distilled spirit, you would need 1 part liquor to 7 parts water.  This  yields a 5 percent solution. 

Use this alcohol-water combination when you need to add water to the bowl.  Cornell scientists say rubbing alcohol also works but because it is typically 70 percent alcohol, less is needed,  just 1 part to 10 parts water.   I wrote about this interesting method last year but thought you might want to be reminded abut this handy tidbit of information if you’re going to start for yourself or to give as gifts.

 

My Top Ten Favorite Plants for Shade

 Some of us live in mostly  shade and some of us in the sun.   The choices for sunny locations are many but those of us who garden in shady or partially shady places have a tougher time finding good, reliable plants. 
Looking back over the years, I find that time and again I use one of the following plants in a design for a shady garden.  Sure, every garden is different;  different look, different soil, different degree of shade, but it’s surprising how often one of these plants plays a starring or supporting role in a vignette or border. 

I call them  Jan’s Top 10 Plants for Shade.

#1    Loropetalum chinense or Fringe flower.  This handsome evergreen shrub comes in two versions: green foliage with white flowers or burgundy foliage with raspberry flower clusters. Flowering is heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year.   I place this plant in the foreground where you can appreciate it’s graceful shape.  It looks great as an accent or in a raised bed.   The burgundy form would add color to a woodland garden and they even do well in a container on the patio.   You can prune it to any size but please don’t turn it into a tight ball and ruin it’s shape.    Another plus is that it is not attractive to deer.

#2    Liriope or Lily Turf.     Another deer resistant perennial I use a lot as a ground cover , at the edge of a path, or in a mixed border.  Evergreen grasslike leaves form tufts 18" tall.  They do well along streams or garden pools and compete well with the roots of other plants like at the base of trees or shrubs.  Flower spikes, usually purple, are quite showy.  ‘Big Blue’ is a popular variety that does well in dry shade.  ‘Silvery Sunproof‘ has green strappy leaves with gold stripes that age to white and can take sun.  In shade they stay golden, which is really pretty.

#3    Heuchera or Coral Bells.  There are so many varieties of this perennial these days I hardly know where to start.  Whether native or a hybrid their flower spikes are a hummingbird favorite.  Colorful foliage,  often ruffled or variegated,  can be silver, amethyst, caramel or lime green.   Combine a tawny variety like ‘Caramel‘ with the chartreuse foliage of ‘Citronella‘ in front of taller perennials or as a border edging.  They make good container plants, too.    Plant them where they get a little afternoon shade and they’ll be happy. 

#4    Pieris japonica or Lily of the Valley shrub.  An evergreen shrub with year round interest, this plant blooms early in late winter though early spring , and is covered with little bells for several months.  Starting in fall , when reddish flower buds appear, through summer as new foliage emerges with a red tint there is always something attractive happening with this plant.  Deer resistant also.

#5    Dryopteris erythrosora or Autumn fern.  If you’re looking for brighten up a shady area, this is the fern for you.  New fronds emerge a coppery color unlike any other fern.  Although they appreciate regular water, they will tolerate dry shade in a pinch.  Deer don’t like ferns either.

#6    Hydrangea quercifolia or Oakleaf hydrangea.  Huge showy leaves resembling oaks, turn bronze or crimson in the fall.      White flower clusters , 8" long, bloom in late spring and early summer, turning pinkish as they age.  They  are attractive if left on the plant  for the rest of the season.   This deciduous shrub grows to 6 ft tall and can also be grown in containers.

#7    Hakonechloa or Japanese forest grass.  The most widely grown and I think the most beautiful variety is Aureola‘.  Use this graceful, chartreuse colored grass to lend a classy touch to containers or as an architectural accent to a border or along a path.  In cool weather, the leaves turn pinkish and blend with your other fall foliage.

#8    Nandina or Heavenly bamboo.  Not a true bamboo, this hardy, easy to grow shrub, comes in many forms.  Some are ground covers, some hedges, some narrow accents in restricted places.  Many have bright orange-red foliage in the winter and deer don’t like them. .  It can grow in dry areas and you can harvest the sprays of berries for a holiday wreath. 

#9    Cornus florida or Flowering dogwood.  Check out Cherokee Chief‘ to provide vivid red fall foliage color to your garden as well as scarlet fruit that hangs on the trees in the winter.  This variety bears deep rosy bracts that nearly cover the tree in spring.  Use this small handsome tree as a focal point in the garden.

#10    Acer palmatum or Japanese maple.  ‘Bloodgood‘ is probably the brilliant deep scarlet red maple you’re seeing around town.  In the spring and summer foliage is deep red but in the fall- look out -it turns neon red.  Growing to only 15 ft, this small tree can be placed anywhere , even in a container.

 There are many other great plants that come to mind that I also use and like.  Pacific coast iris, campanula, bush anemone, to name a few.  This is a good time to add some new plants to the shady spots in your garden. 

Put your Garden to Bed

 There’s a peaceful quality to this time of year.  Mother Nature is winding down for the season turning deciduous trees ablaze with fall color.  Cool season pansies and violas turn their little faces to catch the sun.  It’s time to put the garden to bed for a greener spring next year. 

 Here are some suggestions, but promise you won’t try to do everything on one weekend.  it’ll just seem like work.  Gardening should be something you enjoy. 

  • Build up your soil by layering the vegetable beds with 2" of leaves newly fallen from your trees.  Soil building worms and organisms will start their work right away.  In the spring, dig what’s left into the soil.  If you want the leaves to break down faster, run over them with a lawn mower, then rake them up for mulch.
  •  Prevent erosion of your precious soil by mulching with straw or bark.  Mulch used around perennials, shrubs and trees will help moisture percolate into the soil instead of running off into storm drains or creeks along with fertilizers.    Mulch also keeps the soil from becoming compacted by winter rains.  If you don’t have enough leaves to use as mulch try layering newspapers and cardboard and cover with straw.  3-4" of mulch around the base of trees and large shrubs will hold weeds down, too.  Be sure to keep mulch a couple of inches away from the base of your plants so trapped moisture doesn’t rot the trunk. 
  • Chop down leftover vegetable plants and spent annuals flowers and layer on the vegetable bed under cardboard to decompose.  Don’t do this with diseases plants such as squash plants with powdery mildew.   These can be put in the curbside yard waste can.  Hot commercial composting systems can kill disease spores.
  • Clean empty pots and store them upside down in a dry location.  That way you’ll keep any soil diseases from being passed on to next year’s plants. 
  •  Store any excess leaves to use next summer if you have a lot of deciduous trees.  They’re like gold.  They make great bedding for a worm bin and next summer you can use them in the compost pile when you have an abundance of nitrogen rich green material but little carbon-based brown stuff to mix with it. 
  • Leave a little debris for wildlife so beneficial ground beetles have a place to live and birds can snack on seeds left on shriveled flowers.  Coneflowers, ornamental grasses and crocosmia all attract birds to their seed heads through the winter. 

The bottom line is to do those fall clean-up jobs as you have the time and energy.  Cleaning up in increments leaves height and interest in the garden and feeds the birds, too.

What you should do first, though, is to bring indoors houseplants that  spent the summer out on the patio. Also bring in any plants too tender to survive the winter outside. Be sure to inspect them for insect pests and wash them off.   Sub-topical plants  like tree ferns and bananas benefit from extra mulch to help them survive the worst of the winter weather.

It’s not too late to reseed thin spots on your lawn or apply a fall fertilizer to an existing one and if you have citrus trees, rhododendrons, azaleas or camellias they’ll benefit from an application of   Citrus use it for flower bud development and fruit sweetness.  Rhodies, azaleas, and camellias need it when flower buds begin to form.  It also improves flowering and root development of any plant and helps plants resist diseases and cold weather damage. 
 

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