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Fri, Feb. 28

Autumn foliage colors fall gardening tasks

Ken Lain/Courtesy photo<br>
Red maples are just coming into their fall color at your favorite garden center.

Ken Lain/Courtesy photo<br> Red maples are just coming into their fall color at your favorite garden center.

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 us instantly into a deep sleep.

Without question, fall is the best time to plant trees, especially after this week's deep rain showers. Plants will start to root even as they begin their fall hibernation cycles. Evergreens, spring blooming shrubs, cool season vegetables, and winter loving flowers like pansies, kale, and violas should be planted in October. Now is also the time to find the best selection of fall-colored plants at your favorite garden center. Additionally, this is the month to fertilize everything in the landscape.

As I've mentioned before, the most important benefit to fall planting is the reduced risk of transplant stress. Plants may lose their leaves to winter cold but subsoil activity continues in the roots. 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, including any valuable natives in the landscape. It's been my experience that this fall feeding is the most critical of the year, because it sets the stage for next year's new growth.

Fertilizing is important, but let's not poison ourselves while we're at it. Synthetic fertilizers are extremely water-soluble so they tend to work their way into water tables and our lakes much more easily than organic fertilizers. I only recommend and use natural plant foods; they last longer and are safer for the environment as well as for pets.

I hand-crafted a special mountain blend of food that really works better than any of the nationally branded synthetic foods. Simply labeled as "All Purpose Plant Food," this granular food is made from cottonseed meal, bird guano and other minor elements. Simply distribute it with a hand spreader and expect magic to happen in the landscape.

If plants have been stressed by too much summer rain, eaten by bugs this fall, or just didn't perform as expected, feed them with my "All Purpose Plant Food" and watch the difference in next spring's growth. Native plants benefit greatly from a fall feeding. For example, pinion pines, when fed this time of year, will be sturdier come spring and more resistant to pine scale. Ponderosa pines are prone to bark beetle, but are better able to fend for themselves when fat and happy.

Also, keep in mind that when buying a locally produced product we are supporting local retailers, local truckers, local distributors and local plant food dealers. I encourage you to support Arizona with this important fall feeding. I usually don't let my political feelings show in this column, but I get tired of seeing our hard-earned money go out of state to mega-stores that suck on our economies. Enough said!

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 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's brutal windstorms. In the Chino Valley and Paulden areas, where wind takes its toll on many other garden plants, I have seen beautiful autumn blaze specimens take on the elements and come out on top.

If you want color all year round, with the best burgundy tones in fall and summer flowers so bright you would think someone turned on the tree's light switch, you have to consider the chocolate mimosa. This tree is new and well suited to our area because it is very drought and wind hardy. Kicked up by a mountain breeze, its astro pink flowers dance across ferny chocolate-colored leaves bringing a showstopper display to any landscape.

For the past four years, the undisputed best seller at my garden center is quaking aspen, populus tremuloides, or trembling leaf poplar. Growing in the wild at the 6000+ elevations, it does well as a cultivated specimen. Aspens have that classic pure white bark like a birch but, unlike a birch, handle our clay soils much better. True to their name the dainty leaves literally shiver and quake at the slightest breeze. For a natural look with aspens, plant them in clusters or buy a clump of aspens in the same container. They are social trees and like to hang out together in groupings.

My favorite tree is the Bradford pear, pyrus calleryana. It's the last tree to turn color in fall with radiant red leaves that usher in the start of the holiday season. Then, it gloriously announces the arrival of spring with vivid, pure white blossoms!

Let's all enjoy our labors of the fall planting season. They will pay off with touches of color during the winter months and lush growth come spring.

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

Ken Lain, "my personal mission is to help local homeowners garden smarter and get our local garden timing right." Throughout the week Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, or may be contacted through his web site at

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