Giving your yard end-of-season appeal

October 21, 2014


Chris Hoaglund
Zenith City Weekly

I’m always a little torn this time of year. I love the cooler weather, but it means my gardens are starting to fade and winter is nearing all too soon.

While I am content with my garden going to sleep after the first freeze, I still need some seasonal accessories to spiff up the outside of my home.

One of my favorite things is changing out my planters with seasonal flowers and accessories. Since my pots and windowboxes sit outside all year, I have to make sure they look decent or they just end up looking junky.

Often, it seems like I just get my fall stuff in and it snows/freezes before I get to add any Thanksgiving or Christmas trimming. I try to prep my pots so they are ready to go with a few quick changes.  

The bigger trick is to catch them before they freeze solid. If you miss your window of opportunity, bring your pots inside for a few days to thaw out.

I typically use some greenery that will last season to season. Spikes and Eucalyptus, even grasses, are good choices for a base, but they will only carry you through Thanksgiving, at best. After a month or two in the snow, they lose their appeal quickly.

This year, I grew Eucalyptus in my windowboxes. As of right now, they are almost six feet tall—an anomaly, I’m sure—but my plan is to cut them in half or in thirds and use the cuttings in my planters.

With Eucalyptus, you can spray paint the stems for winter-long interest. Consider a nice burgundy for both fall appeal and a perky Christmas pick-me-up. For my slightly more expensive greenery purchase in spring, I’m getting three seasons of use for them.

This year, we bought some cheap little pine trees in six-inch pots. If you keep these as a staple in your patio pots, you will give your planter a base to build around. They grow slowly, so they should last you at least one whole year as long as you water them. At some point, they might outgrow the container, but if you take care with them, they will probably last a couple of seasons.

You can always plant them in your yard later. Come March, when the snow melts and the pine boughs dry out, it’s nice to see some greenery. Throw in a few pansies or silk flowers, and your pots will look pretty good until at least May.

I like to offset these pines from the center, so I group things around them. If you have a really large pot, centering them is fine. You just want to make sure the plants you put around them aren’t any taller than the pine or it looks off-balance.  

Given that growing practically slows to a halt this time of year, you shouldn’t have concerns that anything will outgrow a 12-inch pine.

Mums and pansies are the choice for cool weather. They are abundant and inexpensive. You don’t have to remove the pot your mums came in. You can bury it in your planter inside the pot. You’ll need to water it more often though. That makes it much easier to pull out when you want to change to winter-mode.

Don’t underestimate the appeal of flowering kale, ornamental peppers, or strawflowers either.

I also like to add accents, like pumpkins and gourds and silk autumn leaves, in fall/Thanksgiving planters, and change them out with white pine boughs, spruce, boxwood, holly leaves, or berry stems for winter. You can add a strand of lights, bows, or ornaments to give them holiday appeal.

Fall is a great time for cleanup and planting those spring bulbs. Make sure to pull out any annuals after the first hard freeze. If left over the winter, they will rot and get moldy in spring. I like to get rid of them so as not to invite any fungus.

Vegetables and fruits should be picked. Apples can ferment and give critters a buzz. While seeing a drunk raccoon may be amusing, it is unkind to them.  

Grass should be mowed fairly short to discourage snow mold, and one last dose of fertilizer is always a good idea. It will feed your yard through the winter.

Trees can be trimmed. After the leaves have fallen, it is easy to see the structure of the branches. Crisscrossed branches should be cut so the dominant branch has the right-of-way.

You can also prune shrubs down to about two-thirds their size. I leave many of my flowers all winter, like Blackeyed Susans and coneflowers, as the birds love to pull their seeds. Not to mention they give some winter interest to the landscape.

I’ve always approached gardening and landscaping as “decorating” outdoors. We don’t have to go full tilt and make sure every corner of the yard is attractive year-round, but it is nice to take care of the major things and add a few finishing touches to the front of your house that will carry you through the winter. 

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