Fall in love with your garden

by: VERN UYETAKE, Nicole Forbes shows a Sarcococca plant at Dennis’ Seven Dees Nursery in Lake Oswego. The garden center has dedicated an entire outdoor area to autumn plants that add scent and new colors to the garden.

Summer turned to fall quickly, almost un-noticed. Temperatures dropped a bit, days became shorter and recently you noticed your drive across town is garnished with bight red and orange leaves.

At home, summer plantings fight for your attention next to these new blazing colors that distinguish fall.

But, is the gardening season over?

According to Nicole Forbes, assistant manager at Dennis' Seven Dees Nursery in Lake Oswego, the fun has only begun.

'We have all the month of October to do major planting jobs. You can still tuck things in through November. Realistically, in our zone there's never a time you can't plant,' Forbes said. 'But the soil does get too wet to work with. It's not that it becomes too cold, it's just that the soil becomes mucky eventually.'

While autumn may seem a perfect time to unroll your sleeves and let Mother Nature take it from here, homeowners can still participate with changing the appearance of their yard.

And with the Oregon rains up ahead, autumn plantings require minimal maintenance. Some plants lose their leaves, some leaves change color and other plants become fragrant in wintertime. Forbes said plant placement is important - does it need sun or shade? - as well as a simple understanding of this time of year.

What happens during autumn?

Forbes noted that the green color in plants comes from chlorophyll, the chemical that helps the plant complete its photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, green plants get energy from the sun. Carbon dioxide and water are synthesized through the sun and release oxygen.

'During the fall when the plant is going dormant - when it's asleep, essentially - it has very low food needs,' said Forbes. '(Plants) need less nutrients during its dormant cycle in fall and winter.'

And by using less nutrients, plants change colors.

'When (a plant) slows it's chlorophyll you end up with a red color,' said Forbes. 'The temperature and shorter days tell the plants that the season is changing, slow it down.'

During summer months plants are getting and using energy. Forbes compares our day to a plant's full season.

'We wake up and nourish ourselves throughout the day and we sleep to do the long-term repair needed for our internal systems,' said Forbes. 'And for a plant, it wakes up in the spring, has one heck of a long day and is re-nourished throughout that long day. It is fertilized - and has it's own ability to feed itself through photosynthesis - and it slows down like we do in the evening. It goes to sleep for that basic long-term repair.'

But, why would homeowners install plants that are just going to fall asleep, essentially? To see the colors turn and add fragrance.

Forbes says that autumn is a great time to plant deciduous trees - trees that lose their leaves. In the fall, the soil is warmer than the air temperature above ground. She said roots prefer about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

'You put a plant in now and it's not too active above ground, which makes it ideal to put all it's energy into below ground for root development,' said Forbes. 'It can produce a nice foundation before going dormant in the winter. When spring comes it's ready to grow above ground.'

What can I plant at home?

In Oregon, homeowners have options year round to enhance the look and smell of their gardens.

'You can have tons of textures, bark, berries and fragrance,' said Forbes.

n Burning Bush and Japanese Maples: Burning Bushes need the sun; Sunlight allows the plant to transform into bright, red foliage in the fall.

Japanese Maple trees have long branches that hang with a sweeping motion, cascading to the ground. Forbes suggests planting these on a bank or slope where the branches can hang down. Upright Japanese Maple trees need some sun and are just starting to turn colors now. Toward the end of autumn the certain varieties should be flaming red in color.

'They'll slowly transition to their peak color and then start to wane and the leaves will drop,' said Forbes. 'Almost all the plants that give us spectacular colors lose their leaves.'

Coral Bark Maples have crimson-colored bark year round. The leaves turn a golden color in fall. After the leaves fall in the winter months, the bright pinkish bark is revealed as a pleasant secret that was kept year round.

n Evergreens: Evergreen plants start to get color in the fall as a response to the colder temperatures, said Forbes. They do not lose their leaves. As the plants produce less chlorophyll, the leaves can become pink and red before returning to a green color in the springtime.

n Daphne Odora: These start to bloom in February, around the time of daffodils and should be planted in the shade. This is an evergreen plant that blooms to have a nice fragrance, said Forbes. It holds up the best when planted near an entry way or home so the building can shelter it from wind.

'I encourage people to plant these near their door, because if it goes to the back of the garden you're not going to go there when it's cold. (It will be) underappreciated,' said Forbes. 'It smells like candy, like Sweet Tarts. Let it greet you at your door so you walk past it from you car to your front door.'

n Sarcococca: These plants are fragrant in the wintertime and do not lose their leaves. They bloom to have small, creamy-white flowers around Thanksgiving. These should be planted in the shade.

'This flower is smelled but not really seen,' said Forbes. 'The buds are very small.'

n Helleborus: This is a winter flower with strong, leathery leaves. Flowers start to flesh around this time and can remain in bloom through early March. The flowers droop a bit in nature and prefer some shade. Blooms can range in colors, from a soft apple green to a pink with freckling in the center. Some pruning may be required to see the flowers better.

'Put them up on a terrace so you can look at them,' said Forbes.

Ivory Prince Helleborus have rosy red stems and bluish-green leaves. This variety produces pink buds, which open to outward facing apple green colored flowers. They bloom as early as mid-winter and last all spring.

'These take center stage in winter and become gorgeous,' said Forbes.

To refresh the garden homeowners needn't spend a fortune or do any redesigning.

A mini-garden may be just the trick for an October treat.

'If people aren't going to go into their garden anymore, plant up a mixed container and put it on your porch. If you're not going to go out there anymore, bring the garden to you,' said Forbes. 'A nice welcome home at your front door for you and your spouse is a nice reminder that someone lives there and cares.'

Visit Dennis' Seven Dees Nursery in Lake Oswego at 1090 McVey Ave. The nursery can be reached by phone at 503-636-4660.