Episode 6 – October 15, 2022

Ground Breaking Banter

It’s mid-October and the fall colors outside are fabulous! It’s as if the shrubs and trees are celebrating a growing season well done. It’s party time! Stacey and Rick discuss fall color and the pigments in foliage responsible for it, namely: chlorophyll (greens), xanthophylls (yellows) carotenoids (oranges) anthocyanins (reds). No two autumns are the same, because several factors influence leaf color: weather, drought, day length/length of night, sunny days and chilly nights and the available pigments that put on a show when the chlorophyll breaks down.

Rick explains his theory that trees are capitalists: after leafing out in spring they benefit from sunlight and get to work making a “profit” to grow.  We in turn profit from the oxygen they provide and the nutrient rich foliage for our compost piles (don’t burn those leaves!). 

If you or someone you know is in need of a fall color fix, check out this beautiful video that Rick shot last week in northern Michigan.

Why Legend of the Fall fothergilla? Well, as its name suggests, this plant is truly legendary in fall, and its leaves turn practically every fall color all at once. It’s kind of more golden in the center, with reds and purples appearing toward the edges, which gives it a glowing look.

Legend of the Fall fothergilla is also known as bottlebrush, a name that comes from its white flowers in early spring that do look like bottlebrushes. Some people also call it dwarf witchalder, which is another great name for this time of year but actually derives from its close relation to witchhazel: they are in the same botanical family, the Hamamelidaceae. Its botanical name, Fothergilla, is pronounced fah-ther-gill-uh, as it is named to honor English plant collector, Dr. John Fothergill. Whichever name you call it, it’s a native shrub that you’ll find growing wild in the south and southeast – namely, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. It grows in acidic, moist woodlands, and is pretty prolific in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Legend of the Fall was developed by Brian McGowan in Egremont, Massachusssets. He and his wife Alice ran Blue Meadow Farm, a specialty nursery. They have since sold their property to focus on other projects, but like for so many of us, gardening never really leaves you, so they still are planting and designing gardens. He selected Legend of the Fall for its consistent fall color – while fall color can be influenced by environment, there’s also a strong genetic component, and this particular plant exhibits it strongly.

Fothergilla is a great landscape plant: multi-season interest, pretty easy to grow, very resilient to pests and diseases. However, there was one feature holding it back from reaching its full potential, and that’s that it was difficult for growers to produce in a commercial nursery environment. Legend of the Fall is one of the easiest for them to grow, which is good news for all of us gardeners.

How to grow

The must-haves for success with Legend of the Fall bottlebrush are sun and moist, acidic soil. It can take part sun, but you likely won’t see the fall color become as vivid, and there will be fewer of the flowers. The plant will also take on an open habit. As for the soil, I have tried to grow it in my very dry soil and it was a no-go, but my mom has a well-established fothergilla in her clay soil in the Detroit area, so while they can’t take wet conditions, they do want some good moisture. Like I said, it is resistant to most pests and diseases, and tends to be quite deer resistant, too. It needs little pruning, but if you do want to prune it, you’d do that after it flowers, in spring.

A really nice plant for more naturalistic settings, wildlife gardens, that kind of thing. My mom has it paired with our native flowering dogwood and it’s a beautiful combo – they both like similar conditions and compliment each other seasonally.

Ready to add Legend of the Fall® fothergilla to your landscape? Ask for this Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrub at your favorite local garden center.

Gardening Mail Bag

First, an update: back in episode 4, on October 1, we heard from a listener who asked why the green peppers growing on his plants were “brown and rough.” Rick and Stacey threw out a couple of suggestions, including blossom end rot, water stress, and just natural aging. Well, when that listener sent us his photos, we were stunned! Here’s what his peppers look like:

Definitely not what we were expecting! After a quick internet search, though, there was one clear culprit: cyclamen mites. These super tiny insect relatives could have come from the greenhouse where the original plants were grown, blown in from a local strawberry patch, or just happened to land in this garden. They are so tiny that they are easily airborne and could blow in from just about anywhere. They feed mostly on the flower, as the fruit begins to develop, and that feeding causes this damage. Cyclamen mites can also affect other plants in the nightshade family, so you may find similar damage on tomatoes and eggplant as well. This is not anything either Rick or Stacey had seen before, and that’s the great thing about gardening – you never stop learning and being amazed by new discoveries! 

Sandra asks, “My lilacs are budding out and leafing this fall. What do I do?”

First, we wonder if the lilac in question is perhaps a reblooming type. The best-known of these is the Bloomerang series, and there’s an old, heirloom variety out there called ‘Josee’ which also blooms in fall a bit. In these cases, blooming in fall is completely expected and no cause for concern.

Sometimes, strange things do happen, though, and if a plant is very stressed, it might open some flowers in fall. If you gave it a severe pruning, it might also put out some flowers. Excessive water and/or fertilizer can also push new growth and cause flower buds to open.

Definitely cut back water and fertilizer – no fertilizer at all, and if you have an irrigation system that’s still running, adjust the sprinkler head so that it delivers no water to your lilac – that could push additional new growth.

Jerry writes, “I have a Norfolk Island Pine that is outgrowing my house. It’s huge. What do I do, does anyone want it?”

Well, first of all, a hearty congratulations to Jerry for growing a Norfolk Island pine to such maturity indoors! It’s not an easy task, and many, many others who love this unique subtropical conifer have failed. Rick and Stacey suggest reaching out to a public garden or greenhouse and seeing if they will take it, or, if you can’t rehome it with someone else, then perhaps it’s time to send it to compost and start with a new one. Soon, they will be filling the stores and you’ll have a chance!

Branching News

  1. In the warmer months, the average American does 53 hours of manual labor around the house and yard every month, according to new research. Nearly a full day every month (21 hours) is devoted just to home-related tasks, while even more (32 hours) goes into keeping the yard looking fresh. Taking the crown for most disliked chore is, unsurprisingly, pulling weeds. Cleaning the bathroom comes in second and edging the lawn comes in third. If you’re one of the ones who hates weeding, there’s an easy solution: just plant more desirable plants, and they’ll easily outcompete the ones you don’t want!
  2. If you’re confused about why the changing of clocks from DST to Standard Time is still happening this year, you wouldn’t be alone — social media users may stumble upon videos that claim the U.S. government has passed new legislation for permanent daylight saving time (DST). The new federal bill, known as the Sunshine Protection Act, did indeed pass the Senate in March, positing that permanent daylight saving time should be the standard for all U.S. states.  What many don’t realize is that the bill was written to take effect in November 2023, meaning that next year’s “spring forward” time event — when we adjust clocks forward one hour to start DST — would be America’s last. 
  3. Stacey and Rick have fun with a story about the “Big Idaho Potato Truck.” Stacey feels the whole concept is “half baked” – decide for yourself here.
  4. And a kudos to Sharalee Armitage Howard from Coeur d’Alene Idaho who created the Little Tree Library in her own front yard. As a librarian herself, she understands the importance of a cozy, beautiful reading environment. “We had to remove a huge tree that was 110 years old, so I decided to turn it into a library (which I’ve always wanted),” Sharalee wrote in social media, She added a roof to the tree stump, carved out the inside, and added a door and lighting. Inside, there are shelves full of books available to borrow for free.

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