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Fall Color 

click to enlarge The bright red blossoms of fragrant pineapple sage.

Photo by Julia Graham-Whitt

The bright red blossoms of fragrant pineapple sage.

Fall is upon us in all of her splendor. The late rains this year mean we've been able to enjoy the beautiful trees longer than we're generally used to. The lack of wind, until recently, has also contributed to the beautiful foliage staying in place. At my place, the paperbark birch is resplendent in her reds, while the flowering cherry in the orchard greets me every morning with hues of yellow and orange. The blueberries are turning red as well, just before they drop their leaves. Even the apple trees are getting in on the action, as many of them have subtle hues of yellow in their leaves.

When we think of fall color (yes, we really do have fall colors here on the North Coast — just take a drive down the Avenue of the Giants and take a gander at those big leaf maples, or the dogwoods), we often think of the blazing colors of Minnesota and Wisconsin, or the stunning displays of maples, dogwoods, sassafras, red oaks, birch and poplars of New England. But we have plenty of color here, too. And it's not just trees.

As the days turn to gray and more rain (please) falls on our beautiful redwoods, there are ways to brighten up your fall and winter garden long after the deciduous trees have lost their leaves.

If you don't have a lot of room to plant a tree at your place, consider some of the shrubs that have gorgeous color: red twig dogwood, viburnum, spicebush, oakleaf hydrangea or blueberries, which, incidentally, also provide you with a scrumptious crop of fruit in the spring and early summer (if the birds don't get them first). Just make sure you read the tag that tells you how big (or small) the shrub will eventually be. I like to tell clients to add 20 percent to the size of anything listed on the tag, since it is Humboldt and we like to grow things big here.

Don't forget the annuals such as violas, pansies and alyssum, which can act as perennials here on the coast, as they re-seed heartily. A few perennials that are blooming right now are primrose and cyclamen. You can find most of these at the local nurseries, and some of the newer cultivars are simply stunning. In subsequent years, you can divide these and have even more plants, or share with a friend who wants to have some fall color.

Another plant that I really love at this time of the year is pineapple sage — it typically starts blooming in early October and can go all through the fall and part of winter. It's a tender perennial and may die back if we get a hard freeze, but it can withstand some frost. Bees and hummingbirds are drawn to the beautiful crimson tubular flowers, and if you plant it near a pathway, you'll be rewarded with the faint smell of pineapple (hence its name) when you brush up against it.

And don't forget: It's not too late to plant those spring bulbs. Most nurseries still have a plentiful supply and you may find some on sale, as they make room for the summer blooming bulbs and tubers in the near future. Follow the instructions on the package, and plant with a little bit of bone meal to feed the bulbs as they grow. If you are cursed with gophers, as I am, you'll find that daffodils and scilla aren't as enticing to the little buggers as, say, tulips are. You can always put flowering bulbs in pots to protect them from the big-toothed rodents and still enjoy a show in late winter and early spring.

And it's not too late to plant your garlic and onions. Do it soon, though, or else you'll get smaller bulbs come next year. Remember to mulch well with some straw to combat weeds, as garlic, onions, and shallots don't like to compete with weeds.

This is also a great time to move any plants that might be in the wrong spot. Shrubs, and even small trees can be transplanted right now. Perhaps that daphne is in a spot that looked great last year when you put it in the ground, but you discovered that it's kind of in the way of those lovely raised beds you built and planted. It's time to move it to a better spot now. Make sure you get the entire root ball and try not to compact the soil (now that it's wetter) when you replant it. The coming rains will water it in and it should be off to a good start come next spring.

Soon enough, it's going to be time to prune those deciduous trees and roses. But that's for next time.

Until then, happy gardening. Get out there in nature and enjoy the show before the next big windstorm comes in.

Julia Graham-Whitt (she/her) is owner and operator of the landscaping business Two Green Thumbs.

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