Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Enjoy the glorious colors of fall and plan for next spring

August 26, 2012 12:05 am  •  JIM GAINAN

Have you noticed the crispness of the air in the early morning and after sundown? It’s this time of year that makes me feel so fortunate to live in a place where we experience all seasons.
There’s a good chance that once the leaves fall and the work begins that I may feel differently, but for now the anticipation of the ‘fall color show’ is building inside me. There’s something wonderful about cool mornings and evenings and scorching days. In fact, it is the wild fluctuation of temperature and shorter days that signals the trees to begin changing color.
During winter, there is not enough light or water for photosynthesis. The trees rest, and live off the food they stored. The green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves. As it fades, yellow, orange, brown and red colors begin to reveal themselves. Actually small amounts of all the colors have been in the leaves all summer long but, the green chlorophyll keeps them hidden. It is the combination of all these factors that make the beautiful fall foliage colors we enjoy each year.
Whatever your reason for enjoying fall and all of its glorious color, it is the time when changes in our gardening regimes must occur to garner the best results.
Here are a few tips for fall gardening we researched last year and deserve a second read: Keep watering, mowing and raking your lawn until winter arrives. Long, matted grass and leaves left over the winter may cause problems next spring. Stop watering your established trees and shrubs when they start to go dormant (leaves turn color and drop).
Watering, fertilizing with high nitrogen fertilizers and pruning live wood can encourage a new flush of growth, which will make your trees and shrubs vulnerable during winter. But, if we have a warm and dry fall, we may need to apply more water. Continue to water newly planted trees and shrubs as usual. To protect tender, dark barked trees from sun scorch, wrap the trunks with tree wrap.
Apply dormant oil if you had problems with insects on deciduous trees. Wait until the plant is completely dormant to apply. Watch your night temperatures — dormant oil can’t be applied if it is expected to freeze.
According to the Yellowstone County Extension Office, our average first frost date is September 22, but keep an eye on the weather forecast — a frost that will kill tender plants occurs at 26-30 degrees. Cover vegetables and annuals if frost is expected. Be sure to remove the covers by mid-morning, or else your plants may get too hot as the temperature rises during the day.
If Jack Frost sneaks up on you and leaves frost on your garden, spray with water before the sun hits the plants. If the frost was light, this may save your plants by thawing them slowly. If your vegetables froze, don’t rush to pick them — let the soil and plants warm before harvesting them. And if we had a hard freeze, allow the ground to thaw before harvesting root crops.
Several fruits, such as apples, chokecherries, plums, and gooseberries will continue to ripen and become sweeter after a frost. Potatoes and onions will store better after a frost kills the tops. Pumpkins and winter squash should be harvested after a light frost, but before a heavy freeze.
While you are basking in the beautiful fall weather, remember to think about spring. This is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs — tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, etc. Also, fall is a great time to plant perennials, trees and shrubs. Plants experience much less transplant shock when they are planted in the fall. The shorter days and cooler nights create less need for water. Plus, you’ll have some really fun surprises of color when spring arrives in a few short months.
James M. Gainan is the President of Gainan’s Flowers & Garden Center in Billings.