Is It Time To Clean Up Your Yard?
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
We’ve had our first freeze and now we have a decision to make. As gardeners, we like to keep our yards cleaned up and cleared of debris, especially after our first frost and, especially after plants have turned brown and shriveled. But, is it better to wait until spring to clean up the yard or do it now?
There are a number of good reasons to let the debris remain until spring. First, if you have perennials that are evergreen, do not cut them; leaving them adds extra nutrition they get through their leaves. Also, plants like sedum, even though their blooms are spent, offer winter interest to your garden, especially if we have a dusting of snow. Winter grasses can look lovely after a heavy morning frost.
Ornamental grasses are best left through the winter as they provide interest in the garden.
Foliage left on your plants also provides natural protection from the winter cold; stems and crowns of plants can catch blowing leaves, which can add more insulation. Additionally, plants with hollow stems like salvia, are unusual; if the stems are cut, winter moisture can make its way to the crown, damaging the plant or even killing it.
If you want to save time and energy, wait until spring to remove withered leaves on plants like daylilies. It is much easier to apply a gentle tug to remove leaves instead of using pruners! However, iris plants do benefit from giving their leaves a trim in the fall; simply cut the leaves in a fan shape, leaving about 4-6 inches on the leaves.
If you are a bird or wildlife lover, then leaving spent plants through the winter provides great benefit to these creatures. Birds love the seeds from Black-eyed Susans, coneflowers and ornamental grasses. The finches, particularly, have enjoyed the buffet in my yard provided by the standing phlox seed heads this year. Grasses and plant debris also offer shelter to birds and small critters as the weather turns colder.
Finches love to feast on the seedheads of the black-eyed Susan in winter.
Now that we’ve talked about why you should wait until spring to tend your spent perennials, there are still some very good reasons to do some fall clean-up. Disease prevention is the best reason; be sure to discard rather than compost any plant material suspected of being infested by disease or insect pests. Plants like bearded iris can harbor iris borers and fungal disease if they are not pruned up before winter.
If you want to remove leaves, make quick work of a yard full of leaves with a sturdy piece of cardboard. Using it like a snow shovel, push a wide swath of new fallen leaves into piles. Do a fast pass across the lawn every day or two before leaves pack down or get rained on to keep them all together until you have a chance to move them to the compost pile.
Cardboard used like a shovel works great to gather up leaves in your yard until you can get them to compost pile.
If you don’t want plants that self-sow like coneflower, blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, or globe thistle to reseed, be sure to cut them back in the fall before their seed heads mature. Keep in mind, however, that these very same plants have seeds that attract birds to your yard. If you enjoy bird watching in your yard in the winter, save this task until spring!
Unattractive foliage is probably one of the most compelling reasons to clean up your plant debris in the fall. Who wants to look at black or slimy leaves after a frost? There are some plants that are particularly bad for this: ligularia and Japanese anemones are some of the worst offenders, so prune up or remove this type of foliage.
For a gardener, there is always something that can be done in your yard; all our landscapes need some work in the fall and in the spring, because a gardener’s work is never done!
Many Trees Provide Oklahoma Fall Color
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Many of us have lost many trees in our landscape during our recent drought and hot weather, but there can be a silver lining. If you have the need to replace trees, consider adding trees that have beautiful foliage in the fall. Although we do not enjoy as brilliant the foliage of hardwood trees as they do in the Northeast, there are still many trees that we can grow here that will beautify our yards with autumn colors.
Local nurseries and garden centers have been having sales, with many trees featured at reduced prices. This is the perfect time to consider planting new trees in your yard to bring you lovely fall foliage next year. Let’s look at some perfect varieties for Oklahoma.
A favorite tree which sports orange-red fall color is the Chinese Pistache; at maturity, it can get as large as 25-35 feet, and its foliage is relatively pest free. The female tree has attractive red or blue fruit, and this tree has a medium growth rate. It becomes more rounded as it grows, and is hardy throughout Oklahoma (zones 6-9.) It is readily available in our area.
Chinese Pistache tree is well-suited to Oklahoma with beautiful red foliage.
If you like yellow fall color, consider the Lacebark Elm; it grows 40-60 feet at maturity, and has glossy leaves and attractive red fruit. Another unique feature of the Lacebark Elm is its exceptional brownish-orange mottled bark, which adds viewing interest. If it is irrigated and fertilized, this tree will grow very fast, becoming rounded at maturity, and is also hardy throughout Oklahoma. Additionally, it is an excellent disease-free substitute for the American elm.
Lacebark Elm has not only lovely yellow foliage, but very interesting bark as well.
Another tree which grows well here in Oklahoma is the Bald Cypress; growing from 50-80 feet at maturity, its fern-like foliage will turn reddish-brown in the fall. An added benefit of this tree is that it is drought tolerant, with a medium to fast growth rate. It is pyramidal in shape at maturity and has attractive, rounded fruit. This tree is hardy throughout Oklahoma and readily available locally.
Maples are known for their beautiful fall color, and there are many varieties that do well here in Oklahoma. These trees are generally smaller in size, about 15-20 feet, so may be better if you have a small area. They have shiny, three-lobed leaves and some varieties have attractive red fruit as well. They are quite adaptable to many conditions, pest free and hardy throughout Oklahoma. Ask your local nursery or garden center for varieties that have red fall color.
Shantung Maple is one of the many varieties of maples which provide brilliant foliage in fall.
Once you have decided which trees you want, how do you plant them? First, dig a hole 2-3 times the diameter of the tree’s root ball; don’t dig too deep, as the tree should be planted at the same or slightly above the original grade of the ball. Be sure to cut any rope tied around the tree, designed to keep the burlap covering the root ball, as it will cut into the tree as it grows; it is okay, however, to leave the burlap in place on the root ball. Place the tree in the hole and fill with native soil; tamp lightly and do not over-fertilize newly planted trees. It is a good idea to stake a young tree if it is top-heavy or in a windy area, but remove the stakes after the first season.
Keep a 5-6 foot circle weed- and grass-free around the tree, and place 1-3 inches of organic mulch in this circle. Water at least 1 inch weekly, and continue to water throughout the winter. It is also a good idea to wrap the tree as winter approaches to protect the young, tender bark from rodent damage and temperature fluctuations. Your tree may also benefit from wrapping for the first couple of summers to protect it from sunscald.
Planting new trees this year will give you fall color next year! Now is the perfect time to add beauty to your yard!
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Fall has finally arrived, and with it cooler weather! Fall is also the time for pumpkins – to grow, to eat and to use in decorating our homes and landscapes. Pumpkins are really versatile and they have a very interesting history.
For a whimsical look to your landscape, thread several pumpkins at opposite angles onto a small pipe to create a totem. Fill the pumpkins with flowers and top with a scarecrow hat for an eye-catching yard design.
Pumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas. These early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright Jack-O-Lantern fruit we think of today when we say the word pumpkin. They were a crooked neck variety which stored well.
Early Native Americans roasted pumpkin strips over campfires and used them as a food source, long before the arrival of European explorers. Pumpkins helped them to make it through long cold winters. They used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried, and they ate pumpkin seeds and used them as a medicine. The blossoms were added to stews and dried pumpkin could be stored and ground into flour. Also, they dried the shells and used them as bowls and containers to store grain, beans and seeds. And they pounded and dried the pumpkin flesh into strips and wove the strips into mats which they used for trading purposes.
Native Americans introduced pumpkins and squashes to the Pilgrims. Pumpkins were an important food source for the pilgrims, as they stored well, which meant they would have a nutritious food source during the winter months. Did you know that pumpkins were served at the second Thanksgiving celebration? The Pilgrims cut the top off of a pumpkin, scooped the seeds out, and filled the cavity with cream, honey, eggs and spices. They placed the top back on and carefully buried it in the hot ashes of a cooking fire. When it finished cooking, they scooped the contents out along with the cooked flesh of the shell like a custard. Does this sound like an early pumpkin pie? Yes, without pumpkins many of the early settlers might have died from starvation. Today, pumpkins are symbols of harvest celebrations.
Use skulls with pumpkins to add Halloween flavor to your fall feature.
Pumpkins are very good for you, and they taste good! Nearly every part of the pumpkin can be eaten. The cooked pulp is fabulous in pies, cookies, breads, soups, appetizers, main dishes . . . the list goes on and on! The blossoms are excellent breaded and fried or use as a wrap. The seeds make a great snack.
Of course, pumpkins are wonderful as decorations! A squatty pumpkin makes a surprisingly sophisticated vase. With the top and contents removed, the pumpkin holds water for up to seven days. Or put flower foam, dirt and even a plastic container inside to hold and nourish flowers. Roses, lilies, and poms crowded into the pumpkin’s opening can be stunning!
White or pale orange pumpkins filled with mums, berries, and nuts surrounded by pears and other fall fruits are stunning on a table.
Mix things up and use a white pumpkin this year, sometimes called a fairytale pumpkin. Flowers in yellows, peaches and shades of orange, accented with sprigs of berries complement the white pumpkin shell beautifully. To help extend freshness, coat the cut edges in Vaseline. Or purchase a white foam pumpkin at a craft store and fill it with natural flowers.
Small grapefruit sized pumpkins and even the tiny gourds can hold dry grasses, votive candles and taller candles. Use them to hold flowers in your centerpiece and place a big pumpkin between them. Or try mixing a bud vase with a candle and a small pumpkin on a pedestal. Combinations like these reflect the rich variety of textures available in autumn.
Small pumpkins and gourds are perfect in centerpieces using votive candles in them.
Pumpkins are one of the most versatile vegetables we have, for growing, eating and decorating. Pause a moment to appreciate the beauty of the common pumpkin. Its buttery smooth surface and even lines could round out a Halloween or fall theme in your home. For very little expense, you’re buying an unusual, seasonally appropriate decoration. And you won’t even have to find a place to store it afterwards!
Decorate Your Porch for Fall
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Since we are expecting a taste of cool Fall weather, don’t you have the desire to get into the spirit by decorating your home, specifically your front door? If you’re sick and tired of putting out the same old jack-o-lantern every single year, then take your front door decor to the next level this season with one of the beautiful and creative ideas shown below. Whether looking to go simple and elegant with a small wreath of autumn leaves or wanting to extend your decorations onto your porch and maybe even down your walkway, there is something here for absolutely everyone.
If you’ve got limited space or are more minimalistic in your decor preferences, then all you really need to make your home cozier and seasonally inspired is something to hang on your front door. This could be a small wreath or some type of floral, harvest corn, and pine-cone arrangement. If hanging something on your door isn’t an option where you live but you’ve got a little bit of porch room, a simple floral arrangement of mums with pumpkins could really go a long way in warming up that space. Alternatively, if you are enthusiastic about decorating this season and want to go all out, you could completely transform the front of your home into an autumn dream. Pumpkins, bales of straw, potted plants, scarecrows, and fall leaves can all be used together to complete the look you desire. Here are some specific ideas.
If you want to go all out this fall, use straw bales, pumpkins, gourds, and mums!
Place a bale of straw on both sides of your largest step with a large pumpkin on each one. Arrange potted mums and gourds around the straw bale and down the steps, keeping both sides symmetrical for a walkway feel. Tie the look together with corn-stalks on both sides of your door and a hanging wreath.
There is also something to be said for sticking with the basics. If you’ve got a small table you can set on your porch, place a bouquet of sunflowers and autumn leaves on it. Surround the flowers with small pumpkins and gourds, and arrange your larger pumpkins around the table.
It’s amazing how much you can transform the front of your home by simply accenting your door frame. A great way to do this is by draping garland made of autumn leaves, pine-cones, and sunflowers around the front double doors. This look works well with matching wreaths.
If you’ve got a cooler-toned or more modern-looking home, a few large pumpkins and some bright yellow mums are a great option for a more classic decor. Scatter them sparsely around your porch and stairs if you’re more minimalistic. An added rocking chair makes this the perfect place to sit on a fall day.
For a simple display, place two potted mums, one yellow and one orange, to the side of your door. Next to them, lay down some brightly-colored leaves underneath a few pumpkins.
If you have limited porch space, hang a small wreath made of muted fall leaves on your front door for a simple yet elegant appearance. Or if the more traditional floral wreath just isn’t for you, try hanging a wreath of cranberries on your front door. This bold pop or color is festive and looks great with a bright yellow bouquet in a distressed and rustic vase. Arrange candles and apples around the display.
If your house has stairs to the front door, line either side of the staircase with varying size pumpkins and dried harvest corn. At the bottom of the stairs, continue the stacked look with bales of straw. Or if you like the idea of floral arrangements in pumpkins, don’t be afraid to experiment with different flowers. Mums and sunflowers aren’t your only options. Try using orange and white pumpkins to display flowers such as warm-colored roses and even chrysanthemums.
If you prefer just flowers, nothing offers more color on your front steps than a variety of striking mums.
To accomplish a stately look this season, use some large stone vases to home mums, ferns, and even large pine-cones. Two simple pumpkins on either side of the door and a hanging straw and pine-cone arrangement pull the look together.
A few bales of straw with bright yellow and purple mums are made even cheerier with a couple of happy scarecrows and gourds. This is a wonderful option for families with children and makes your home appear friendly and welcoming. However, if you’re not into pumpkins, scarecrows, and straw bales, you can brighten up your staircase this fall simply with some potted plants. Leafy ferns, purple flowers, and classic mums are beautiful.
Classic, modern, simple or elaborate, there is an option for everyone when it comes to fall decorating!
The Beautiful Sunflower!
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
No flower can lift someone’s spirits quite like sunflowers. They are bright and cheery, and as warm and inviting as the sweet summer sun. With brilliant yellow petals, also known as “rays,” sunflowers have an unmistakable sun-like appearance that has made them a crowd favorite, especially in the summer months.
Sunflowers come in a number of varieties—ranging from small to very large, from having yellow petals to red. However, there is more to sunflowers than meets the eye. While they are stunningly beautiful, they also are rich in history and meaning.
Sunflowers symbolize adoration, loyalty and longevity. Much of the meaning of sunflowers stems from its namesake, the sun itself. These flowers are unique in that they have the ability to provide energy in the form of nourishment and vibrancy—attributes which mirror the sun and the energy provided by its heat and light. Sunflowers are known for being “happy” flowers, making them the perfect gift to bring joy to someone’s (or your) day.
Who can resist the cheery sunflower in the landscape!
Sunflowers originated in the Americas in 1,000 B.C. and were then cultivated as a valuable food source for centuries. With the European exploration of the New World, the flower’s popularity spread, as the rest of the world began to appreciate its beauty and sustenance.
Today, sunflowers remain a highly recognized flower, admired for their sunny charm and delightful disposition. These beauties are also still sourced for their seeds, as well as oils used for cooking and skin emollients. For a flower that reflects so many of the sun’s positive characteristics, it isn’t surprising that people enjoy basking in the sunflower’s warming glow so much.
With bright blooms that go all summer, sunflowers are heat-tolerant, resistant to pests, and attractive to pollinators and birds. They make beautiful cut flowers and their seeds (and oil) are a source of food for birds and people!
The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant with a large daisy-like flower face. Its scientific name comes from the Greek words helios (“sun”) and anthos (“flower”). The flowers come in many colors (yellow, red, orange, maroon, brown), but they are commonly bright yellow with brown centers that ripen into heavy heads filled with seeds.
Sunflowers are heliotropic, which means that they turn their flowers to follow the movement of the Sun across the sky east to west, and then returns at night to face the east, ready again for the morning sun. Heliotropism happens during the earlier stages before the flower grows heavy with seeds.
There are tons of varieties of sunflowers available today, so there’s bound to be one that fits your garden. Choose between those with branching stems or single stems, those that produce ample pollen for pollinators or are pollen-free (best for bouquets), those that stay small or tower above the rest of the garden, or those that produce edible seeds!
A fairly fast-growing flower for their size, most sunflower varieties mature in only 80 to 95 days. The largest sunflower varieties grow to over 16 feet in height, while smaller varieties have been developed for small spaces and containers and rarely grow larger than a foot tall! The flower heads can reach over 12 inches in diameter within the large seeded varieties.
'Mammoth' is the traditional giant sunflower, sometimes growing to more than 12 feet tall.
When planting sunflowers, first and foremost, find a sunny spot! Sunflowers grow best in locations with direct sunlight (6 to 8 hours per day); they require long, warm summers to flower well.
Choose a location with well-draining soil. The planting spot shouldn’t pool with water after it rains. Otherwise, sunflowers aren’t too picky about soil, but for the best results, it shouldn’t be too compacted. They have long tap roots that need to stretch out; in preparing a bed, dig down 2 feet in depth and about 3 feet across. Sunflowers are heavy feeders, however, so the soil needs to be nutrient-rich with organic matter or composted (aged) manure. Or, work in a slow release granular fertilizer 8 inches deep into your soil. If possible, plant sunflowers in a spot that is sheltered from strong winds, perhaps along a fence or near a building. Larger varieties may become top-heavy and a strong wind can be devastating.
Sunflowers are a diverse bunch! Here are a few varieties you may want to try:
The towering ‘Mammoth’ variety is the traditional giant sunflower, sometimes growing to more than 12 feet tall. Its seeds are excellent for snacks and for feeding the birds, too.
‘Autumn Beauty’: One of the most spectacular cultivars, the ‘Autumn Beauty’ has many 6-inch flowers in shades of yellow, bronze, and mahogany on branching stems up to 7 feet tall.
‘Sunrich Gold’: A great flower for bouquets and arrangements, this sunflower grows to be about 5 feet tall and produces a single 4- to 6-inch flower. The big, no-mess, pollenless flowers have rich, golden-yellow rays and green-yellow centers.
‘Teddy Bear’: Just 2 to 3 feet tall, this small sunflower is perfect for small gardens and containers. The fluffy, deep-gold, 5-inch blossoms last for days in a vase.
Sunflowers make wonderful bouquets, but here are a few tips: 1) For indoor bouquets, cut the main stem just before its flower bud has a chance to open to encourage side blooms. 2) Cut stems early in the morning. Harvesting flowers during middle of the day may lead to flower wilting. 3) Handle sunflowers gently. The flowers should last at least a week in water at room temperature. 4) Arrange sunflowers in tall containers that provide good support for their heavy heads, and change the water every day to keep them fresh.
Fall is a prime time for sunflowers; enjoy them to the fullest!
Autumn Beauty has many 6 inch flowers in bronze and mahogany.
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