Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

trees

The greens outside aren’t as green as they used to be. Fall is in the air and that means trees and shrubs are preparing to put on their fall show. How does your yard look in autumn? If you’ve been wanting to put on more of a show, here are some tips.

Shop in fall. Visit your local garden center or nursery as trees and shrubs are putting on their fall finery; that will give you a chance to see the colors the plants develop (and which plants tend to be brightest).

Create a backdrop. One way to highlight bright colors, especially yellows and oranges, is to plant them in front of evergreens. Rich dark greens, like many pines and spruces, are particularly nice, but you can also create some eye-popping fall combos by dropping your favorite fall shrubs in front of silvery-blue plants like blue spruce.

Think about berries. Fall color can come from fruits, as well as foliage. You can’t help but notice some plants such as beautyberry (Callicarpa) when their brightly colored berries take center stage in the garden.

Plant fall flowers. There’s a whole world of great fall perennials beyond mums and asters. Add cheer to your landscape with brightly colored goldenrod (Solidago), toad lily (Tricyrtis), and more!

By the way: Interested in why/how tree leaves turn color in fall? Check out this story!


When it comes to trees, one of the most popular questions I answer via our Garden Doctor application is recommending varieties for folks who want an easy-care tree that grows fast.

Unfortunately, these two concepts are kind of contradictory. As a general rule, the faster a tree grows, the weaker the wood is. And weak trees are the ones you often see toppled over after especially strong winds or shedding large branches after ice storms. And the fastest-growing trees tend to be first choice of disease and insect organisms.

So what’s a gardener to do? One option is to select a moderate grower instead of a fast one. Varieties like sugar maples, red maples, river birches, katsura, and black gum can put on some good size relatively quickly without being too problematic.

And by the way: If you’re looking for ideas of which trees to plant, be sure to check out our Plant Encyclopedia. If you can’t find what you need there, another great tool is the Tree Selector!


My fellow BHG garden editors and I had the pleasure of hosting representatives from ISA — International Society of Arboriculture — yesterday here at BHG headquarters. Arboriculture is the field of growing and maintaining trees and it covers a lot more than you may think: From picking the right tree, planting it correctly, maintaining it well (dealing with everything from pruning to storm damage to attack from pests such as Dutch elm disease and emerald ash borer), and the sad job of taking it down once a tree has reached the end of its natural lifespan.

We all know that trees are good — they help give oxygen, filter pollutants from the air, and create shade — but the folks at the ISA pointed out other reasons why we should have trees in our lives. For example:

  • They increase our property values.
  • Casting shade on our homes in summer or blocking cold winter winds can help save a significant amount of money from our heating and cooling bills.
  • Tree roots help absorb storm water runoff, allowing moisture to naturally filter back into the environment instead of going into storm sewer systems.
  • They can help make us better people; recent research at the University of Rochester showed that being around trees and nature can reduce our stress, help us heal from injuries faster, and  can actually help us create closer relationships with friends/family.

Interested in adding a tree to your landscape? Check out our online Plant Encyclopedia to help you find the best type for your needs.


Plant on the left was grown in topsoil cut with peat moss; plant on the right was grown in quality potting mix amended with sand and compost.

Plant on the left was grown in topsoil cut with peat moss; plant on the right was grown in quality potting mix amended with sand and compost.

If ever I needed proof that good potting mix matters to plants, I got it last weekend while repotting chestnut seedlings. These two seedlings were grown in the same size pot, in the same lighting conditions, and with the same watering and fertilizing regimen. Yet you can see the vast difference in root development. Plus, the chestnut on the right is substantially taller, as you’ll see in the photo below.

I remember what happened. I had run out of potting mix, so I substituted topsoil for a small number of seedlings. Even after “cutting” it with peat moss, the topsoil was too heavy and thick to be used as a container medium.

Moral of the story: use a good potting mix (here’s one I use) and beef it up with compost (and sand, if you’re working with woody plants). Avoid using topsoil in containers even if it’s amended. Your plants will be larger and stronger. And the more extensive root system will help plants deal with drought and neglect.

Another look at the difference between seedlings grown in topsoil vs. potting mix amended with compost and sand.

Another look at the difference between seedlings grown in topsoil vs. potting mix amended with compost and sand.



About 14 years ago I planted two red oak trees in my brother’s yard. One came from an independent nursery, the other from a now-defunct big box retailer. The first had a sizable root ball, well-developed branching, and $40 sale price. The second was deformed and sad-looking (I actually felt sorry for it languishing on the asphalt), and carried a $12 sale price. Now see if you can tell which is which. Moral of the story: sometimes it pays to pay a higher price.

Here's the $12 Hechinger's special I felt sorry for. I'm glad it survived, but it's never been a showstopper.

Here's the $12 Hechinger's special I felt sorry for. I'm glad it survived, but it's never been a showstopper.

Note how healthy and large this $40 tree has become.

Note how healthy and large the $40 tree has become.


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