Impressive fall colors before the hard freeze

Fall colors are in various stages across our great state as we have been teasing our trees and gardens with a few light frosts as they and we prepare for our first hard freeze. Northwest Oklahoma has already dealt with that four hours below 28º hard freeze weather that kills most annuals and puts most perennials, deciduous shrubs and trees into winter hibernation. The rest of us will have that experience very soon as we make the annual march into winter. Make sure to bring inside any plants or cuttings of tender plants you want to save until next season. If you believe we may have a nice extended Indian summer after a light freeze or two you may want to cover or protect some selected tomatoes, other vegetables or flowers for a few early light freezes to see if you can earn several more weeks of flowers or vegetables. You can cover tender vegetables and annuals with sheets, blankets, towels, boxes or commercial row covers to try and extend the season until the freezes come too hard or too often.

The pretty fall color on our trees and shrubs is one of my favorite annual nature shows and everyone gets to enjoy it no matter where you live in our state. No question it is more impressive in the areas with more trees and some rolling terrain as in southeastern Oklahoma or northeast Oklahoma but a single maple or other tree in your own backyard or nearby park can be quite amazing. Fall color goes pretty quickly, not as fast as a sunrise or sunset, but like them, the fall leaf color is constantly changing so make some time at this season of year to enjoy the fall color as you take your daily walks, bicycle rides or drive to work. There are pretty and interesting trees in every neighborhood and it is fun to watch the leaf colors transition from green to tones of red, orange, yellow and then brown. It is even fun to watch the leaves release from the trees like magic carpets and fly, glide or float to the ground to land on the earth. Their highest and best use is as compost or mulch across the ground or used in flowerbeds as mulch and then to add nutrition back to the ground. Please find a use for them in your gardens in building up the soil instead of dispatching them to the landfill. The leaves want to return to the earth and enrich the soil as they complete their cycle of life.

It is a good idea to mulch the top of the soil around tender perennials, shrubs and plant material that is marginal for our temperature zone with a natural mulch of bark, collected leaves, cottonseed hulls, pecan hulls or compost. The mulch will act like a blanket or comforter to help keep the soil warmer and more consistent in temperature. A 2 to 4” layer of mulch on top of the soil should help tender plants survive the long, hard, cold winter. Remember to water your trees, shrubs, and overwintering plants periodically this winter if we don’t get some regular rains. This will help your plants to avoid dehydrating and increase this chance of winter survival and success next spring.

If you have not already planted some pansies in your yard please get out and get some to plant in your flowerbeds, by your front porch or into container gardens and urns. Few plants are as encouraging and uplifting as seeing the fun flower faces of pansies persevering through a cold, dark winter to greet you each time you come or go from your house or as you look out the window. These crazy guys bloom during ice or snow and on very cold dreary days. On the worst days they look a little wilted but as long as you water them every once in a while they will bounce right back and are downright perky anytime the sun is out.  They are available in all kinds of funky purple, red, blue and yellow colors, many with a lower face of black or other bold color to create a lively winter show. Plant pansies in a bright sunny area to get the best show this winter and early spring before they wither in the heat next spring.

Tulips used to be only for the very wealthy of European royalty as tulips were one of the first great collecting, breeding and trading fads. A single cherished bulb would trade for tens of thousands in current dollars. Today all of us can collect and plant the amazing tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and other spring flower bulbs to enjoy in our own yards and at a very reasonable prices. No matter which of these spring bulb crops you most enjoy, now is the time to get them planted. Plant some crocus along your main sidewalk, in the front flowerbed or planted randomly out amongst the lawn to give you your first glimpse of spring color. Plant tulips for their royal display of proud petals reaching for the sky in the sunny flowerbeds where you want to make a real statement.

The beautiful yellow, white and orange flowered narcissus or daffodil is probably the best adapted spring bulb for our area. It often will naturalize and come back year after year to make impressive clumps to let us know that spring really has arrived. If you go buy and plant your bulbs by early December, you can plant them normal depth. If you wait later you will need to plant them a little shallower to still get blooms this spring.   The sooner you plant them with a little bone meal or blood meal the more root growth they will have this winter and the more impressive they will be this spring.

Here we are just changing daylight savings time, flirting with our first hard freeze and we are already talking about spring. Please get outside to watch the leaves do their fall color, plant some pansies and spring flowering bulbs and soak in the great outdoors.

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