Sept. 22 marked the autumnal equinox, the official beginning of fall, which in East Texas meant 91 degrees and 69 percent humidity! While the day itself didn’t feel much like fall wonder, it was the cosmic pronouncement of shorter days, the waxing moon and milder nighttime temperatures. Fall in East Texas is a busy time for gardeners - preparing lawns, gardens, trees and shrubs for winter and the spring to follow. As such, it seems like a good time to highlight some basic fall-gardening lingo. We hope you find it useful.
ANNUAL VS. PERENNIAL
Plants considered annuals complete the life cycle from seed germination to seed production in one growing season. Pansies and snapdragons represent this group. The term, reseeding annual, refers to annuals that produce seeds which overwinter on the ground and sprout in their season such as zinnias. Larkspur, bluebonnets, poppies and Indian paintbrush are a few examples of reseeding annuals that require winter’s cold temperatures for germination. Fall is the time to spread these wildflowers for spring bloom. Biennials start from seed and in the first season produce leaves and store up food. In the second season they produce flowers, fruits and seeds. Cool-season vegetables in this category include carrots, beets, onions and cabbage. Plant stresses like unseasonably warm temperatures or drought can cause a biennial to complete the cycle from seed germination to seed production in one growing season. This is known as bolting.
Perennials grow many years and produce flowers and seeds each year after reaching their maturity. Some are herbaceous, others woody, but all return year after year. Herbaceous perennials have fleshy stems and die back to the ground each winter. In the spring, new stems grow forth from the roots. Summer bloomers like purple cone flower, Rudbeckia, many salvias, coreopsis and bee balm (Monarda) represent herbaceous types. Trees and shrubs are considered woody perennials. They have tops that persist year-round and may be deciduous or evergreen. Deciduous varieties drop all their leaves in the fall and winter, and then put on new growth in the spring. Deciduous species in East Texas include crape myrtle, redbuds, bald cypress and dogwoods. Evergreens, as their name suggests, keep their leaves all year. Long leaf pine, cedar, holly tree and azaleas are included in this group. It should be noted here that, as part of normal course, evergreen trees drop leaves periodically throughout the year to make way for new growth.
Winterizing refers to methods used during fall and winter months to maintain a healthy growing environment for a lawn throughout the cold season to ensure its recovery come spring. Winterizing includes a three-fold process: 1. High mowing in the fall to reduce stress as grass enters the dormant period. 2. Fall application of a fertilizer higher in nitrogen and potassium and lower in phosphorous. Fertilizing adds nutrients to the soil for plant uptake. Look for a 3-1-2 ratio when purchasing fall fertilizer. Fall is also the time to put out pre-emergent herbicide to help control weeds come spring. Pre-emergent herbicides are chemicals that prevent the germination of overwintering weed seeds in the spring. The label will indicate targeted weeds. 3. Irrigation. Even though lawns go dormant during the winter, they still require water. In general, average wintertime rainfall should be adequate, however, in dry winters, irrigation may be needed periodically.
DEAD HEADING VS. PRUNING
Dead heading refers to snipping spent blooms on shrubs, annuals and perennials to encourage new growth, while pruning refers to cutting off dead or unwanted parts of a plant or shrub in order to remove dead wood and give it shape to increase fullness or yield of the plant. Generally, one can dead head any time of year, but pruning is reserved for the plant’s dormant season, typically winter, in order to improve plant vigor or productivity. Trimming or shearing means a light cutting back of no more than a third for general shaping of hedges and shrubs. In East Texas, the last trimming of shrubs before winter should take place in September.
If you would like to learn more about what to do gardening-wise in the fall or any other time, check out the month-by-month gardening guide and tips online at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.