JoAnne Skelly: Plants are changing

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This morning it was 37 degrees and yesterday it was 35 degrees. If the cold nights didn’t alert me that fall is near, my flowers and trees would. Leaves are turning yellow on the neighborhood poplars and ash trees. Some maples are already changing to autumn oranges and reds. The yarrow flowers are brown remnants of their previous gold. The bouncing Bet are trying to go to seed again. I had dead-headed them a few weeks ago and got a second bloom, but it’s time for them to finish for the season. The iris leaves are drooping. The birds are eating the seeds from the Russian sage flowers. The dragon’s blood sedum leaves (their name always makes me think of Harry Potter) are turning a pinkish yellow. The feverfew have put out their last blossoms. The columbines have gone to seed.

However, some plants are still going strong, refusing to surrender to the seasonal influences. The ‘Autumn Joy’ sedums are aptly named. Glorious hot pink umbrella-shaped flowers are coming into their own. The yellow lanceleaf coreopsis refuse to quit blooming. The nepetas or catmints are considering whether to bloom again. And, even though seeds are developing on the Russian sage, the flowers are still spectacular. The asters, also in my favorite purples from light to deep, are thriving. Another pleasant surprise are the autumn crocuses, flowering in a soft pastel pink under the lilacs. I always forget these fall-blooming gems. The violets surprised me by having green leaves this long. They usually dry up before now.

Although the best color display in our yard generally occurs in early to mid-June, I do enjoy this winding down time with its much gentler display. Plants are less demanding as temperatures cool, daylengths shorten and fall is in the air. I have backed off the automatic irrigation to every other day from the usual daily watering regime for our sandy, gravelly soil. I want plants and the lawn to slow down to be ready for the cold weather. Letting plants grow vigorously right up to when they freeze can be detrimental to their health and survivability next year. They do better when their systems are allowed to slow down gradually in response to cooler weather, shorter days and less water.

I am collecting seeds in the yard: cleome, lupine, penstemon, columbine and black-eyed Susans, to spread where I want them for next year. I love this time of year.

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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