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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 11/10/2011

Appreciating fall, and preparing the winter garden to shine

Fall gardening tips from a horticultural meteorologist...

A fallen maple leaf rests on a mossy surface in Chatham County near Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. (Gerry Broome - AP)
Depending where you are in the area, the leaves are at the peak of their brilliance or falling fast! Despite the dry spells and deluges this summer, most of the colors came on pretty nicely. Part of this was due to the relatively dry weather with mild days and cool nights.

It is an annual delight to see those brilliant yellows of the gingko trees in Georgetown, russet beauty of the oak trees in Takoma Park and glowing oranges of the maple trees that line many of our streets throughout the area.

As many of you know, those colors are actually there all season long but are masked by the green chlorophyll that the plants are using to make food. Once the trees start shutting down for the season, the chlorophyll is cut off and the masked colors get their moment center stage.

But did you know that the red colored leaves of the Japanese maples and burning bush shrubs require one more step? For them, the sunlight interacts with chemicals in the leaves to transform the anthocyanin to make the brilliant reds.

What are some of your favorite trees for color?

Keep reading for my tips on readying your winter garden...

Make the winter garden welcoming

After nearly killing myself with all the bulb planting a couple of weeks ago, it is now time to focus on some of the other preparations for the winter season. As noted last time we talked, the mulch is going in and I like popping a few kale and cabbage into the landscape to brighten it up all winter long. Normally I would be putting in a boat load of pansies too but am trying to resist bringing in all the neighborhood deer. But if I can’t have them in the landscape, then why not in my pots at the front entrance? An inspiration!

If you have winter hardy pots, not clay, and preferably of some substantial girth, take advantage of the colder season to plant them up for a season of beauty. I often like buying small evergreens that I can find a home for in the garden once spring arrives.

Pots with winter plants. ( Western Pennsylvania Conservancy )
Many of my smaller pines and cedar started out in a pot, decorated for Christmas. However, there are a lot of other choices too. Nandina (heavenly bamboo) is hardy and the leaves are usually a bright red and often have berries and, of course, hollies fit the berry bill too. Another nice choice is hellebore (Lenten Rose) that can start blooming as early as late January if the season is not too brutal. Creeping junipers are nice to hang down the side of the pots too.

If you don’t want the live plants, you can go with cut greens as well. They work best if you remove the top six inches of dirt and replace with sand. Water thoroughly and then stick cut boughs of evergreens into the sand. This will last well past the holidays if you keep the sand moist. This time of year usually only requires a once a week watering at most. You can pop in some ornamental grass and magnolia cuttings for added elegance.

Average temperatures over the last week. Temperatures averaging 40 degrees are confined to interior New England. (Great Plains Regional Climate Center)
My last task is the first of the pruning. I like to wait until the temperatures are averaging about 40 degrees which we are not yet at in this area as can be seen on the map (to the right). By that time, the trees and shrubs will have moved most of the nutrients into the roots. With the leaves out of the way on the deciduous trees and shrubs I can get to work pruning out any damaged limbs from our tropical storms and help shape the plants. However, for flowering shrubs, be careful or you will prune out your flowers for next spring. This time of year it is generally safe to prune late summer and fall bloomers and leave the spring bloomers until after they flower. I will also be taking advantage of overgrown holly bushes to adorn the mantle for the winter.

Let me know what you are up to in the garden too. As the season winds down, my blogs will be coming in once a month until March, so talk to you in December.

Capital Weather Gang meteorologist David Streit is also an active gardener. He earned a certificate in landscape design from the USDA Graduate School and volunteered many years at the National Arboretum.

By  |  12:45 PM ET, 11/10/2011

Categories:  Environment, Local Climate, Latest, Gardening

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