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Mon, Oct. 14

Ah, the beautiful choices of fall

Isn’t fall one of the best times of year? Beautifully warm days are filled with bright sun, yet the evenings are cool enough to lull you into instant sleep.

When I’m not fishing, I really do enjoy gardening just as much as time on the lake with friends. For those of you who asked, yes . . .the fish that appeared in last week’s garden column was eaten that night. He never made it home with me. What with trucking four kids around to school events and running a garden center, I don’t have a lot of spare time for fishing trips. Fortunately, I still love gardening and the relaxation and gratification that come from a newly created garden space.

Over the past few weekends I’ve installed a new walkway to our front door. Accented with garden beds, it is the focal point of the front yard. Last week the project was finished when irrigation was installed to each of the new plants.

A note about the landscape process at Casa Lain: My wife loves yard art and how it draws the eye to key areas in a garden. She insisted on bringing art into the new garden space, then accenting the art with landscape. Sacrilege to a hard core nurseryman! Plants are always installed first, then the art is brought into the garden. Of course, as often happens, I saw things her way … and we both think the walkway looks good.

Without question, fall is the best time to plant trees, spring blooming shrubs, evergreens and cool season vegetables and winter loving flowers like pansies, kale and violas. The best selection of fall-colored plants is at your garden center right now. This is also the time to be fertilizing the entire yard with ‘Winterizer’ plant food.

As I’ve mentioned before, the most important benefit to planting now is the reduced risk of transplant stress. Even though plants may lose their leaves to winter cold, they continue to root. By the start of the spring growing season these well-rooted plants will push up tremendous growth, proving the value of their fall planting.

Now through Thanksgiving is the best time to feed the entire yard with ‘Winterizer’. In my opinion, this is the most critical feeding of the year. You are setting the stage for next year’s new growth. This specially formulated winter feeding is designed to make your plants fat.

That’s right, fat. Plants store up food in their root structure, then use this stored food to get through tough winters and set the stage for next spring’s growth.

If your plants have been stressed by all the rain this summer, eaten by bugs this fall, or just didn’t perform like you wanted, Winterizer will make a difference in how they look next year. I became a believer years ago after seeing the difference made by a fall feeding program.

Certain native plants would greatly benefit from this food as well. Plants like piñon pine are prone to pine scale in March. A fall feeding will make the plant sturdier and thus better able to deal with this spring pest.

If planting a new tree is on your agenda, there are choices to suit every taste. autumn blaze maple, Acer freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze,’ is my best-selling red-colored maple tree. This tree has a dense oval form that grows to about 40 feet. I would consider it a moderate water user that still maintains a fast growth rate. The most important feature of this maple is the reduced leaf tatter caused by spring wind storms. In the Chino Valley and Paulden areas where wind takes its toll on many other garden plants, I have seen beautiful specimens take on the elements and come out on top.

If you want color all year ’round with the best orange colors in fall, and flowers in spring so bright you would think someone turned on the tree’s light switch, you have to consider the Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis. This is a small tree about 12 feet tall and most frequently comes in a multi-trunked form. The leaves are in the shape of a heart up to 4 inches across. The fall color changes from reds to yellows giving the tree an interesting orange contrast of colors.

For the past four years, the undisputed best seller at my garden center is quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides, Latin for trembling leaf poplar. Growing in the wild at the 6,000+ elevation, this Arizona native is well suited for the tri-cities area. Generally considered a high water user, my experience has proven otherwise.

Our clay soils allow you to water this 60-foot tree just like the rest of your yard. I find it’s prone to over watering.

Aspen have that classic pure white bark like a birch, but handle our clay soils much better than birch. True to their name, their dainty leaves literally dance or quake in the lightest breeze. For a natural look with aspen, plant them in groups or buy a clump of aspen in the same container. They are social trees and like to hang out together in groups.

My personal favorite is the Bradford pear, Pyrus calleryana. This flowering pear heralds the onset of winter and the beginning of spring. The last tree to turn color in fall with radiant red leaves that usher in the start of the holiday season, it later announces the arrival of spring with vivid, pure white blossoms!

This is also the best time to plant evergreens. Evergreens are foundation plants that are hardly noticed until winter when they keep the garden full of interest. Oregon grape is useful for filling in empty spaces in the garden. It looks like a holly with yellow flowers covering the top of the shrub.

Consider other evergreen shrubs like yews, heavenly bamboo, euonymus, and holly.

Holly’s often overlooked, but as we all know, it’s the perfect plant for the holidays. Glossy green leaves with festive red berries make perfect cuttings for using indoors.

Fall colors are beginning to appear throughout the tri-city area. The additional late summer rains should make for a spectacular color showing on local plants. Keep an eye out for the red of the Virginia creeper vine; it is gorgeous this year.

Enjoy the fall planting season.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.

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