Complementary plantings maximize fall colors

This week brings the official first day of autumn, so start watching for those spectacular fall colors to come rolling over the mountains. I am beginning to see the first signs of color on trees like the Sunset Locust and Raywood Ash; even the sycamores in the lower-lying areas have a hint of gold to them. Maple, aspen and burning bush are not far behind in acquiring their autumn hues. Within three weeks the mountains should be ablaze with fall colors!

If you've been contemplating a new tree for your yard this year, I encourage you to plant it now. Transplanting is a really traumatic event in the life of any plant, and fall is the ideal time to plant large trees and shrubs. Planting now as they are going dormant gives them a winter's nap to sleep off any transplant pain and stress. Because the warm fall soil encourages plants to grow new roots that better prepare them for next spring's growth, you definitely increase your chances for success by planting in fall.

In our mountain autumn landscape there are three plants that are exceptionally attractive together. The first is Popular tremuloides, or trembling leaf poplar. Watching a fall breeze gently ruffle the foliage of this Arizona native, I can't think of a common name better than "Quaking Aspen" to describe it. I especially enjoy the contrast of the intense white bark against the leaves, complementary differences that will be more pronounced as its leaves turn and the entire tree lights up in its signature gold colors.

Aspen are very social and like to be around "family," so plant them in clusters. I think the best-looking Aspen at the garden center right now are clusters of 3-5 trees growing in the same container. Planting these tall upright gems with contrasting companion shrubs makes for an eye-catching statement in any fall landscape.

The second of the three plants is the flame maple; it's a red-leafed prize in our mountains' fall scenery, similar to a Japanese maple but much hardier. This small leaf maple grows 10'-15' tall with fiery red foliage about the same time the aspen are turning gold. Talk about a show that really pops in the landscape!

Plant these with the third of this triad, Kramer's red winter heath. It's an evergreen perennial that is showy year-round, in bloom from late winter though spring. This variety of heath blooms even longer in a little shade, making it the perfect partner to the trees. Aspen, flame maple and winter-blooming heath are the designer's trio for a great-looking landscape. It is right for the area, grows well together and looks great in our four-season climate.

The change in weather is our signal that it's time to feed everything in our landscapes. Sometime before the Thanksgiving holiday, we should feed everything in our yards, preferably with my organic 7-4-4 All-Purpose Plant Food. I created this specially blended food specifically for our mountain soils, and it really makes a difference in the way plants develop in our area. Begin by feeding trees, shrubs, large grasses, and flower beds right now. I have found that my lawn looks best through winter when I wait until November to feed it, using the same plant food.

You regular readers know that I consider fall fertilizing the most important feeding of the year, even more critical than the spring feeding. Plants gobble up this fall food and store the excess in their root structures. A well-fed plant will weather the cold season better than a starving plant.

Using the same organic food, I encourage you to feed the large natives in your landscape. This will set the stage for better growth next spring and make for a healthier tree that can fend off a possible bark beetle assault. I'm not an advocate for feeding the entire forest, but there are those trees that noticeably add to the character of your property and your neighborhood and cannot be replaced. Feed those plants this fall and they will be healthier through winter and next spring's growth.

Fall feeding is a must for any plant that is stressed, showing its fall colors too soon, or has been eaten by bugs this year. Plants fed now definitely will exhibit better fall colors now and stunning growth next spring.

Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.

Throughout the week, Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."