Ask the Garden Guru – October

It has come to the attention of the Garden Guru that some have questioned his credentials. He admits to not being a true “guru”, but has been told he has many guru-like tendencies.

Most importantly, he has a garden. Beyond that, the resume is thin. Read ahead at your own risk.

As always, feel free to submit questions for the Guru’s consideration.

What is your opinion of colored mulch?

x3It is colorful, and I suppose harmless enough, but not for me. I’m opposed to colored wood mulch, shredded rubber tire mulch, and the hideous ground and tumbled glass (left) that’s so bright that it jumps out of the garden to make plants irrelevant. Mulch is a tool, not an ornament. It’s purpose is to mimic the effects of leaf litter in forests, not to jump up and down and steal the show.

You recently wrote about the marriage of your son. Is he a “guru-in-training”?

Perhaps, I think it might be a genetic condition, but his guru-ness won’t be in gardening. He’s too busy blasting stuff into nano particles with his lasers.

Why doesn’t my red maple turn red in the Autumn?

Red maple (Acer rubrum), also called Swamp maple because it will occur natively in damp areas, is naturally variable in color from yellow to red. In the sliver of forest that borders my garden the numerous red maples are always yellow, though occasionally with a hint of red here and there. Today, most nursery grown trees have been started from cuttings taken from trees selected for their consistent red Autumn color. Varieties such as ‘Red Sunset’, ‘October Glory’, and a fast growing cross between Silver maple and Red maple, ‘Autumn Blaze’ (below), will have red color every year. Seedlings of red maples, including seed grown trees from the selections, will not be dependably red.DSCN0216Red maples seem to be everywhere. Are there other good trees for Fall color?

Absolutely, I’m so glad you asked. Why would you plant the same tree that your neighbor has, and their neighbor, and the next? Red maples are fine trees, not thugs like the universally scorned Silver and Norway maples, but diversity is a good thing in the garden, and in a neighborhood.Dogwood fall color

If your neighbor has a red maple, Black Gum would be a wonderful choice, or Katsura, or Ginkgo. Their Autumn foliage glows, brilliant yellows, apricots, and oranges, and they grow significantly slower, not to monstrous dimensions. Perhaps you don’t need a shade tree at all, and the native dogwood (above), with red leaves and berries (and the added bonus of April blooms), will be an ideal selection.

Why are the needles on my white pine turning yellow? Is it dying?

White pines (Pinus strobus) have been known to die without obvious cause, but in early Autumn I’m guessing that your pine is not dying at all. All pines drop needles from prior White pine yellowing needlesyears (from two years to hundreds in the case of the ancient Bristlecone pines), but white pines annually shed needles in their second year. For an established pine that grows a foot or more each year the needle drop is barely evident, but a newly installed tree with sparse growth will not have enough current year’s growth to hide the yellowing needles.

What should I be doing to prepare my garden for Winter?

It depends. With a typical garden of evergreens, some perennials, and annual flowers now is the time to sit back and let frost do its work. The leafy tops of perennials and annuals will wither and die. Some will disappear, other might need a tug to remove the old foliage, and some will require pruners. There’s no hurry, anytime prior to Spring is fine.

I like to save these chores for a warm Winter day when you’re itching to get outside, but it’s too early to plant. We’ll have several of those, and another task to do the same day is removing the dead foliage of ornamental grasses. Most people like to leave the grasses to sway in the breeze through the Winter, but they must be cut back prior to beginning growth in early Spring. I like to cut mine back in January or early February.

DSCN0185How to cut them back? I use a chain saw, cutting with the top edge of the blade so the dead grass blades aren’t pulled into the housing. Pruners, hedge shears (even motorized), string trimmers, and brush cutters are slow, and get bogged down constantly. While the chainsaw has hazardous potential, it is far quicker. One year I got the idea from a garden magazine to burn them, so I tried it, and narrowly averted burning down the garden and the house. Only try this with the fire department at your side.

If you’ve planted tropicals such as elephant ears, bananas, and cannas, and want to keep them through the Winter, you can dig and pot them to keep in a sunny room in the house, or let frost kill the top of the plant and store the roots in a cool, dark basement or garage. If you’ve had tropicals and houseplants on the deck or patio through the Summer, now is the time to bring them indoors. Today!

P1012523Along with digging the tropicals out of the garden, my most depressing day is covering the ponds with nets to keep the falling leaves out. To me, this is the end of the season, and Spring seems a long way off at this point. I’ll address this task in greater detail in the next week.

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2 thoughts on “Ask the Garden Guru – October

  1. Black spots on the needles of pine sounds like sooty mold fungus that grows on secretions left behind by aphids. In small numbers aphid damage will not harm the tree, but aphids can be prolific, and injury could result in the pine growing slowly, or it could possibly kill the tree. If the pine is small you could spray with an insectical soap next year when they are first present. For larger trees a spray, or drench of the root system, with a systemic insecticide will prevent further infestation. Dave

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