Crisp Fall days: Perfect for planting... and planning

When Autumn comes around we see our trees and plants getting ready for their "long winter's nap" and it's only natural to think that we can begin to take it easy too. However, with a little deeper thought, we can see that Fall is one of the most important times for us to pay attention to our landscape.

In a recent column, I discussed some of the ways we can prepare the land for winter. Of course what we are really doing is setting the scene for the best possible growing conditions for next Spring and Summer. This is such an important topic that we're going to continue our thoughts about it today.

First and foremost: planting.

You've been thinking for some time now about some new trees or shrubs; how great they'd look over there... or maybe over there. But something always comes up, and you have not yet gotten around to visiting the garden center or ordering from an online nursery. Well, the clock (as they say) is ticking. In most zones in the USA, you still have time to get those trees and shrubs in the ground... but only just. And I'm willing to bet you'll kick yourself if you let the time run out again this year. Do it today and next Spring, you'll be glad you did. There. End of sermon!

I have an idea for your Fall planting that seems specially appropriate at this time of year. If you'd like to see a display of particularly brilliant autumn colors in the years ahead, consider planting some Red Maple varieties. The colors really are spectacular! Three Acer Rebrum varieties to look out for are Red Sunset, Autumn Flame and October Glory. A fast-growing Red Maple is Acer x Freemani Jeffersred, commonly known as Autumn Blaze.

Another suggestion: Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis). This is somewhat smaller than the maples and works well where there is not enough room for a large tree. In the Fall, you'll get an attractive display of long seed pods.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a good time to be getting your landscape ready for Spring. Unless winter soil erosion is likely to be a problem in your zone, this is the ideal time (in fact, better than Spring) to plow up the soil in preparation for Spring planting. You can rent a rototiller by the day from many garden centers. Here's a reminder from Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont: Skim the sod from the area you'll be plowing and add it to your compost pile. You can find more of Professor Perry's tips at and there is a direct link to that website and others from my website. Go to then go to "The Plant Man" page and click on the link that you'll find in this column.

Yes, there are some chores associated with your Fall landscape, but these can be pleasurable as well as necessary. This is a good time to get rid of weeds... before they seed and make next season's weeding task even more grueling. Something you might overlook is the removal of old leaves and stems and other assorted debris that could harbor potentially destructive insects or disease. Destroy any debris that looks diseased and use the rest to add to (or start) your compost pile.

Fall is a very important part of the life cycle of your landscape. Whether your planting or preparing the land for next season, it can also be a very satisfying and rewarding time. Enjoy these beautiful, brisk days!

QUESTION: "I have two red-twig dogwood trees that are about five years old and this year they did not do very well over the summer. They both are in full sun. They both have a lot of dead branches on them and I wonder if they have a disease because the branches, both live and dead, have white "bumps" on them. The leaves also have some "bumps" on them. What should I do? Thanks for your help." - Bob Rieber

ANSWER: It would appear you (or rather, the dogwood trees) have some kind of fungal disease. Cut away the dead or infected branches and remove them from site and burn them. You might then want to cut back all the branches to about one foot from the top of the ground. This will cause more branching and new growth to come out in the Spring. If the plant is not infected at the root level this should take care of the problem.