The Block Island Times

Gardens take on an autumn hue

By Fred Nelson | Oct 05, 2013
Photo by: Fred Nelson Fred Nelson’s garden is taking on some autumn colors. Ornamental grass give your fall garden a wonderful look.

Finally, the season is fit for working outdoors in almost any endeavor — cleaning the vegetable garden, pruning, gathering seaweed and perhaps cutting a bit of firewood for that little extra comfort of warmth during the late fall and winter. I am ready to clean out my tomato plants. The crop is just about finished even though, as I relayed in my last column, the vines are almost devoid of green leaves. What tomatoes that are still on the vines are mature enough that they will ripen even if picked with just a bit of color. The lettuce, beets and carrots are all that will remain in place until freezing weather arrives.

Recent conversations among other gardeners have noted the extra-heavy crop of apples that are bending the branches of roadside apple trees. I don’t remember just what the crop was like last year. It is quite likely that it was on the light side. Most fruit trees even out production over the years. With the heavy crop this year, it is quite likely that next season will see a much lighter crop as the trees have pretty well exhausted a good amount of energy producing the current crop and don’t have much energy to form fruit buds for next year. Write this down and see if my projection proves valid.

One feature of our fall season is watching various trees and shrubs take on fall characteristics, such as foliage color on some trees, shrubs and vines; flower bud formation for next spring on such shrubs as rhododendron and andromeda (Pieris); and fruiting on such trees as crabapples, winterberry, fall clematis and our invasive bittersweet. We have some winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and one can almost see the berries mature from day to day. This is a deciduous holly. While the berries are very significant in the winter without the leaves, I enjoy the contrast of the red berries among the green leaves. By the way, another factor we enjoy with winterberry is observing the birds devour the berries during December. It is not unusual for a flock of robins to stop by and clean off all of the berries. If the robins don’t show up, the crows fight over who gets the most berries.

Ornamental grasses have become a popular addition to many landscapes. Most of the visible grasses are those that grow up to five or six feet tall — some taller. They are often used as either accent plants or screens. They are most attractive during the blooming period that takes place during the fall. The tall species tend to become a bit unwieldy following blossoming and instead of being an attractive addition to the landscape they become quite weed-like. I find that by cutting these grasses back sometime during the fall or certainly before snowfall the landscape appears to be more under control.

From my observation, many folks get a bit fearful in cutting back these grasses by only cutting them about half of the mature height. Actually, these grasses may be cut as low as “ground level.” If cutting that low is too low for your likes, at least cut them down to four to six inches. You are not going to kill the plants by cutting them back at any height. In the past, I have warned gardeners that some species such as those in the Miscanthus family gradually spread from year to year. Without proper planning you may find that what you thought would be an attractive plant can soon become a liability. It is extremely difficult to dig up one of these grass plants and split it into smaller plants. Splitting these plants may require the likes of a backhoe to extract either the whole plant or part of it. This is from personal experience.

I have been asked several times about cutting back asparagus. It is a good idea to cut it back to ground level once the plant has turned brown. If you are going to travel and not be around by the time the plants have matured it is late enough that it may be cut before leaving the Island. Waiting until springtime might be too late to cut back as the spring crop may start growing as early as late April, depending upon how warm the weather is. Thus waiting would make a very difficult effort to cut back the old and avoid splitting the new growth.

“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.” — Mrs. C. W. Earle, “Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden” (1897)

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