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Fall for Outdoor Landscaping

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School is back in session, the holidays are coming up and football is just about the only thing anyone is talking about. All of these are telltale signs that summer is over, and fall has officially arrived. However, the biggest change is undoubtedly the drastic temperature drop, which can have huge and potentially devastating impacts on outdoor plants, including bushes, trees, flowers and grasses. House & Home asked the experts in landscaping how to prepare your outdoor greenery for the routine seasonal shift.

Lawn and Plant Maintenance
Typically, the largest and most important part of any property is the lawn. Having the greenest, most well-manicured yard on the block is a suburban family's dream, but most struggle to maintain their healthy, luscious grass when the weather gets cooler.

According to Rich Cording Sr., the owner of CLC Landscape Design, there are certain measures to take to ensure your lawn's health through the fall.

He says that thatching, core aerating, fertilizing, seeding and lining are the most important lawn care jobs to get done in the early months of fall. Of course, with the weather changing, the year-round needs of the grass itself begin to change, including watering and mowing your lawn.

"You should cut it right up to Thanksgiving," Cording says. "And you should still keep it watered so that it gets to at least an inch to an inch and a half per week. We are in a drought, so watering now is critical because the roots are going to try to grow deep during September and October."

As for other plants, there's a fine line between a healthy haircut and completely destroying the greenery.

He and George Mihalchick, owner of Ponds by George, agree that cutting off dead growth is beneficial to plants at any time of the year.

"As things die back, prune them off," says Mihalchick. "Because then all the energy goes into the roots of the plants, perennials, bushes and trees."

But be warned: Too much pruning can be detrimental to your greenery.

"You want to prune dead growth off because dead growth on a plant can be harmful to the rest of the plant," Chris DeMato, owner of Rock Bottom Landscaping & Fencing, says. "But you don't want to do any significant pruning as this can weaken a plant and, going into the winter season, that's not such a good idea." According to Demato, pruning stimulates new growth, which would juxtapose and delay the natural dormancy process that plants go through as the temperature gets colder.

DeMato also stressed the importance of maintaining a clean lawn, free of any fallen leaves, as they could easily kill the grass beneath them.

"It's very important throughout the fall season to keep the leaves off the lawn. People tend to wait until a lot of the leaves fall to clean them and that's a big mistake that can really do damage to your lawn. The weight of the leaves and then matting down on the lawn can kill the lawn," DeMato explains.

Mulching
A common theme throughout all of the experts' advice is the importance of mulching, especially this time of year. Freshly mulched beds not only increase the aesthetic of an outdoor property but also provide insulation for the plants growing in them.

"Mulch your beds, clean out your beds," Cording says. "Mulch is important. Not only does it make the beds look nice and give you some curb appeal, but it also insulates the roots over the winter. It holds down winds, and it also holds in moisture.

Cording also says that, because of the late-summer drought, plant roots are going to grow deeper through September and October, making mulching that much more important.

"To me, it's like a no-brainer. Everybody should be mulching their beds before the winter."

What to Plant
There are countless beautiful plants that thrive in the crisp months of fall, including perennials that change colors as the temperature shifts and annuals that bloom just in time for the fall festivities.

Mihalchick recommends both the burning bush and the itea shrub to use as foundation pieces for a colorful autumn oasis.

"The burning bush and itea will start turning a brilliant shade of fire-engine red," Mihalchick says. "They're bushes that will give you a big 'wow' factor. As everything else is starting to drop its leaves, those bushes turn red just before they drop and they're stunning."

He also recommends cabbage and kale, two common annuals that are staples to fall landscaping and gardening, and a variety of different ornamental grasses that provide different colors throughout the year.

DeMato says that chrysanthemums, more commonly known as mums, are another fall favorite that are perfect for adding color to multiple different areas of your outdoor scape.

"Most [mums] in the garden centers will have an assortment of colors. Most people put them out on their porches but you can certainly plant them for full color as well," DeMato says. He also recommends honeysuckle, which is mildly fragrant, attracts hummingbirds, and has red berries in the fall to provide a bright contrast against its green leaves.

And fortunately, there is no better time than autumn for planting.

Cording says that greenery planted in the fall has a higher success rate than anything planted in the spring because of their root growth.

"If you plant one now versus in early spring, it's going to send its roots now. And then the dormancy of winter is less of a shock than the heat of the summer, and they actually survive very well over the winter. But then as soon as the ground warms up in late February or early March, these plants are ready to grow," Cording explains. "They're going to exceed anything planted in the spring in terms of root growth.

"You get a lot of dew forming on the ground [in the fall], which makes it good for lawns, but what that does to a plant is it stimulates root growth. So just that weather cycle of cold nights and warm days, it's telling the plant 'Okay, winter's coming. Here, let me grow some roots down deeper.' So the lawn and the shrubs tend to grow their roots more in the fall in preparation for winter."

Regardless of how you decide to decorate your outdoor space for autumn, whether it be ornamental grasses, traditional mums or both, yard maintenance in the fall is just as important, if not more so, than any other time of year.

RESOURCES
CLC Landscape Design
Ringwood, N.J.
(973) 839-6026
CLCDesign.com

Ponds By George
Southhampton, P.A.
(215) 396-7500
PondsByGeorge.com

Rock Bottom Landscaping & Fencing
Serving New Jersey and Bucks County, P.A.
(732) 873-6780
RockBottomLandscaping.net

Published (and copyrighted) in House & Home, Volume 22, Issue 12 (September 2022). 
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