Are your summer or early fall container gardens looking tired? Change out your container gardens to extend your displays well into the fall.
Gardening in containers can offer us year-round seasonal interest, and we can extend the garden seasons to create vibrant container gardens. I’m a huge fan of fall container gardens with a rich variety of color, texture, and hardiness that carry their beauty well beyond the first frost.
A container garden that changes its appearance from one season to another is the definition of a seasonal “change-out” concept. Change-outs can be done by simply removing or adding one or more plants, objects, or other material to the container to add seasonal interest. Color alone can offer more impact on the container garden than any other design element. (However, nothing has more negative impact on the container garden than a poorly maintained appearance or bloomed-out flowers.)
Change-outs should take advantage of seasonal blooming plants and colorful foliage and textures in prime condition. The change-out can add instant color or texture to the display and create a “wow” from one season to another. Color schemes can change through the seasons as well, such as pastels and soft tones in the spring, bright and colorful combinations in the summer, warm and autumn-like colors in the fall, to greens and interesting textures in the winter. Your container gardens can change and develop through the year much like a garden bed or border do in the landscape.
While chrysanthemums still reign supreme in many gardens and containers every fall, try other interesting plants such as asters, ornamental or flowering kale and cabbage, heuchera, pansies and violas, and ornamental grasses. These plants all are cold hardy, and will tolerate light frosts, lasting well through the autumn season.
I love the combination of using purple or blue asters with ornamental kale—the colors play off each other nicely in a long-lasting display. Using other lesser-known plants—such as some of the fall-blooming salvias—can add height and create interesting combinations in your container gardens. Cold-hardy vegetables and herbs can also be added for interest and texture. I like using swiss chard, broccoli, Asian greens, parsley, and alliums to add interesting and colorful effects to my containers.
Another thing I like to do when creating fall displays in containers is to incorporate pumpkins, gourds, dried corn, branches and leaves of trees or shrubs, and autumn or Halloween decorations. A fun and simple addition to your fall containers may be to simply carve out a large pumpkin and use the pumpkin as a container, placing a combination of fall plants in it to decorate your front door or patio.
©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
Over the last couple of weeks, I worked with the City of Eugene putting together native seed mixes for different land managers. Last week, they caught a lucky break of good weather that allowed them to prescribe burn, so the seed mixes will now be dispersed at these sites. Putting these seed mixes together took place in the “seed castle”, a colossal wooden warehouse sitting right beside the train tracks. Gloomy and still like a scene from “The Departed”, I kept my ears perked in anticipation of sirens and heavy footstep. Who knew when our covert restoration operations might be interrupted? There was a moment for contemplation. How funny it is that these seeds, seeds of opportunity, beauty, diversity, nutrition, seeds of life, that harbor so much potential, so much value for prairie health, so much importance, made their way to these plastic bags in this old, dreary, dank warehouse. I could only imagine how these little carbon capsules of unthinkable shapes and sizes will explode into their glorious forms and colors to feed the soil and the critters creeping and crawling about.
Just when work seemed to be slowing down with the end of the field season, the month of September came to the rescue.
It was time for Marta and I to start going out to various (20+) trend sites located throughout the 400,000 acres of land recently burned in the lightening-caused Buzzard Complex Fire (BCF). At these sites we noted the vigor of remaining vegetation (as well as regrowth) and took plot and landscape photos. Unlike all the other ES&R trend sites we’ve monitored this summer (which burned anywhere from 1-3 years ago), these BCF trend sites burned less than 2 months ago in July.
To be able to explore and collect monitoring data on very recently burned high-desert shrubland-steppe was quite the experience. It is really hard to imagine what 400,000 acres looks like until you are out there on the ground. Let’s just say it is like looking out in nearly every direction from wherever you may be and seeing burned land as far as the eye can see. Here though, it is important to understand that fires do not burn evenly across the landscape in terms of fire severity. So, in the high-severity burned areas the land was completely barren of any vegetation and it was easy to see where shrubs were once rooted in the ground before the fire by looking at the darker spots of the ash covered land. In the moderate-severity burned areas the land was of course still ash covered in many places, but there remained dead, blackened stumps of shrubs and stubs of burned down bunchgrasses scattered throughout. In the low-severity burned areas remained little islands of still intact (and sometimes very much alive and green; unburned) shrubs and or bunchgrasses. Most encouraging though, there were a good amount of sites that had rubber rabbitbrush regrowth and bunchgrass seedlings sprouting up!
Attending the BCF tour was another wonderful experience that came with the month of September. The purpose of this tour for the BLM Buzzard Complex Fire ES&R Team (made up of a few Rangeland Management Specialists, Resource Area Managers, Noxious Weed Specialists, and Natural Resource Specialists) and the Burns, OR USDA Agricultural Resource Station (USDA ARS) was to show special interest groups (such as Oregon Natural Desert Association), cooperating agencies and tribal representatives the condition of the land throughout the burned area, all the while discussing the threats (exotic annual grass invasion, herds of feral horses ripping out seedlings, short fire return intervals, etc.), opportunities (exotic annual grass/fuels reduction with grazing, seeding/planting desirable species, noxious weed treatments, etc.) and management actions, in addition to addressing any of post-fire management concerns.
The 1st stop of the tour was at a (medusa-head infested pre-fire) research plot located in the burned area. Here, the scientists from the Burns, OR USDA Agricultural Research Station discussed the results of their experiments concerning establishment of a variety of seeded/ planted native vs desirable (crested wheatgrass in particular) species post-fire in this low-precipitation, low-elevation landscape. The scientists explained why the natives had a very hard time establishing (virtually no germination success) and why the desired bunchgrass (crested wheatgrass) was much more successful in establishing. Simply put, the crested wheatgrass was much more hardy and competitive than the native species.
Here are some quotes (though I apologize because for some I did not write down who said it as I was scribbling it all down like a mad-man so as not to miss anything) I took from the informed discussion that followed:
- · Being a perennial bunchgrass, crested wheatgrass has a very extensive root system, so “just because you see bare ground on top of soil does not mean it is unoccupied underneath…and don’t be alarmed when you see annual grasses in between bunchgrasses because it could be simply due to high precipitation that year, but may not persist” (USDA ARS scientist).
- · “Bunchgrasses are key if you do not want the land to convert to exotic annual grasslands of cheatgrass or medusa-head” (USDA ARS scientist).
- · “But, then how about the issue of crested wheatgrass taking over and keeping native vegetation from establishing?” (Oregon Natural Desert Association representative)
- o “There is competition with native species and crested wheatgrass, but if we seed natives alone at these low-elevation, low-precipitation sites, the seedings will not be successful.” (BLM Natural Resource Specialist)
- o “Think of the crested wheatgrasses as a place holder for natives once the technology and resources are made available which would allow us to succeed in native revegetation efforts.” (BLM Resource Area Manager)
- o “It is much easier to restore a crested wheatgrass dominated plant community to a native plant community than it is to restore an exotic annual grassland community to a native plant community” (BLM Rangeland Management Specialist).
- o “We would prefer to use native species just as much as anyone else. We are not satisfied with looking at a crested wheatgrass landscape and saying ‘ok, we’re done, we’re happy’. No. We need a long-term outlook.” (BLM Natural Resource Specialist).
- o “Time is the best tool you have to get back the natives” (BLM Resource Area Manager).
At the second stop, the matter of feral horse herds on post-fire/rehabbed areas was discussed. I have not learned much before about the influence of feral horse herds on public rangelands, so, I found this part of the tour to be very interesting.
The third stop was to demonstrate winter grazing annual exotics with nutrient supplements post-fire. It was explained, as expected, that the cows lost a little weight in the beginning and there were problems with the adult cows kicking the calves off the supplements, but near the end the cows were again at good weight. Although this practice of biological thinning is a rather slow, less effective way to combat exotic annual grasses (due to grazing after the annuals have already gone to seed), it does nonetheless reduce the fine fuels on site. So, it helps. It is this type of treatment action that will hopefully take place on medusa-infested areas of the BCF in winter if resources are made available by permittees (which have been really cooperative since the permittee meeting in July when the BLM ES&R Team presented to them their BCF management) and if there is enough precipitation this fall.
In concluding the tour, everyone shared their final thoughts on the matter of fire rehabilitation and the need for pro-active fire management (i.e. Tri-State fuel breaks, fine fuels reduction to increase fire return intervals, etc.), instead of re-active fire management (i.e. millions of dollars spent on fire suppression, leaving little money for rehabilitation efforts) and were all very appreciative of this opportunity to be on the ground to really understand what happened on the land and what needs to be done to ensure the land does not degrade further and transition into an exotic annual grassland.
Burns, OR BLM