Autumn is for planting . . . but not much else. While it is important to get certain new plants into the garden before cool and rainy weather, other gardening chores will not be necessary while plants are becoming less active before winter dormancy. Raking falling leaves is probably the biggest of the new chores that are specific to autumn.
Formal hedges that have been getting trimmed regularly since spring may not need to be shorn again until next spring. They simply will not grow much between now and then. If possible, pittosporum and photinia should not be shorn once the weather gets rainy. Their freshly cut stems are more susceptible to certain diseases during wet weather.
Citrus and tropical plants should not be pruned late because pruning stimulates fresh new growth that will be susceptible to frost later in winter. Even if tender new foliage does not get frozen, it can get discolored and disfigured by cold weather. Any newly developing foliage is slower in cooling weather anyway, so plants that look odd after late pruning will stay that way for a while.
For the same few reasons, fertilizer will not be necessary later in autumn. Fertilizer can potentially stimulate new growth when it is not necessarily wanted. Also, some nutrients in fertilizer are less soluble (or chemically unavailable) while the weather is cool. Only plants that grow through winter, like cool season annuals, vegetables and grasses, will want fertilizer.
Planting is done in autumn because plants are either dormant or less active than they had been during warmer weather. They can take their time to disperse roots into comfortably cool and damp soil. Evergreen plants do not draw as much moisture from their roots while foliage is cool and damp. Deciduous plants draw even less moisture without foliage.
Spring blooming bulbs get planted in autumn not only so that they can disperse their roots leisurely, but also because they need to get chilled to bloom well. Bulbs can be phased, so that those planted earlier will bloom before those of the same kind planted later. However, if planted too late, they may not get sufficient chill.
Falling leaves should be removed from lawns, landscapes, pavement, decks, gutters (eaves-troughs), chimneys, and anywhere else that they might accumulate. Fallen leaves not only shade out grass and plants; they can also stain pavement and decking, and clog downspouts. If neglected long enough, they can rot decks and roofing.
HIGHLIGHT: Fringe Flower
Since modern cultivars became trendy several years ago, the old fashioned ‘common’ fringe flower, Loropetalum chinense, has become even more uncommon than it already was. It does not grow fast enough to function as large scale shrubbery, but slowly gets too big to work as small shrubbery. Without pruning, old plants take many years to get to fifteen feet tall.
The gracefully arching stems are outfitted with light green evergreen foliage. The simple leaves are about an inch or two long. The small white blooms have very narrow petals that hang downward like limp bits of ramen. Each bloom is actually a tuft of a few individual flowers. Bloom is most abundant in spring, and then continues sporadically through most of the year.
Modern cultivars of fringe flower are more compact, so rarely get more than five feet tall. Flowers can be white, pink, red or rosy pink. The most popular cultivars have purplish bronze foliage. Fringe flower does well as an understory plant, in the partial shade of trees. It should not be shorn, but instead should be pruned selectively to maintain its natural form.
Horticulturist, arborist and garden columnist, Tony Tomeo assesses the horticultural correctness of landscapes, and inspects trees of environmental prominence from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.