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This week in your Massachusetts garden & landscape

Week of October 3, 2016 By Ron Kujawski

“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”

That quote from Elizabeth Lawrence, famed garden designer and writer, sits well with me.  And sit I do, taking frequent breaks from daily tasks, to stare in amazement at the collage of gold, bronze, purple, crimson, and orange foliage.  Though deciduous trees capture most of the attention, it takes only a brief glance around our garden to realize that there are numerous shrubs that deserve equal billing for the brilliance of their fall color.  Among my favorites are: smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria), witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), highbush blueberry, chokeberries (Aronia sp.),Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), fothergilla (Fothergilla sp.), and most of the viburnums.

Look around your home landscape for these and other shrubs with fabulous fall color.  If you see few, it may be time to shop and plant some.

  • Pay attention to local weather forecasts.  Frost is inevitable, if it has not already occurred in your area.  We’ve had a few light frosts and I’ve picked most of our tomatoes and peppers since they do not like temperatures below 40 degrees F.  Also, the storage life of pumpkins and winter squash is reduced if they are exposed to frost. So, pick ‘em.
  • Get out and enjoy the many sedums that are now in bloom.  Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is probably the most common of the sedums now in bloom, but there have been many new cultivated varieties introduced in recent years.  It’s not too late to buy some container grown sedums for planting in the perennial garden.
  • Cut back perennials as their leaves turn brown.  In my garden, peonies and several hostas are ready to be cut back to ground level.  About the only perennials that won’t be cut back this fall are those with woody stems, such as Russian sage and lavender, and those which remain green through the winter, including candytuft and bergenia.
  • Lower cutting height on the lawn mower by one notch.  Continue to gradually lower the cutting height through this month to a final height of two inches.  Leaving grass too long not only provides cover for field mice, but also increases the likelihood of snow mold disease in late winter and early spring.
  • Consider aerating areas of the lawn where thatch buildup is excessive or where soils have become so compacted that grass is sparse.  Thatch is the accumulation of organic debris on the surface of the soil.  If the layer of thatch is deeper than ¾ of an inch, it can interfere with root development and the general health of the grass.  Now that we’ve had a little bit of rain, this is a good time to aerate lawns.

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