By Brent Gray
Frosts have come to much of Mississippi and many crops were damaged, but tomato harvest is stall ongoing for many gardeners. There are two reasons to remember to keep the tomato plants well watered. The water in the soil helps absorb and retain the heat from sunlight and the water in the leaves and fruit helps maintain the temperature in the plant.. Dry soil and wilted plants allow damage at higher temperatures.
Plants damaged by frost should be exhibiting signs to help determine if it is time to pull them up or keep them going. First place to gather evidence is the freezer or pantry shelf. If there is already plenty of that vegetable preserved, keeping the plant going is balancing the desire for fresh vegetables against the extra work required. Plants that are showing new leaves or flowers should be maintained. The NWS is calling for a warmer than normal November, so we may have a few more weeks to harvest these bearing plants. Plants that are not showing any growth by now should probably be replaced with something more adapted to cold temperatures.
Strawberry plants should be in the ground by now. It is not too late to plant if you can find any transplants, but delaying planting makes the plants more susceptible to damage from cold and drought.
Onion seedlings should be in the two leaf stage or more by now. Don’t thin them until the plants are in the six to eight leaf stage (about as thick as a pencil). Plants at that size can be transplanted to expand your crop or used as green onions for turkey dressing.
Many lawns are still growing, so continue to mow to both maintain appearances and to keep the leaves from shading the live grass.
Dependable Fall Color
More than any other phenomenon, the turning leaves are nature’s signal flags for a change in season. So it’s no small disappointment when trees don’t provide the foliar fireworks we expect from them. But in the following paragraphs are some tree selections with never fail color in fall, the kind of trees that you depend on year in and year out for colorful displays. Most of them are available in local garden centers and nurseries. Fall and winter is an ideal time to plant them.
Although native to China, ginkgo is right at home in Mississippi. Its unusual, fan-shaped leaves look like little fishtails that suddenly turn the purest yellow. Unfortunately, the effect doesn’t last long—the leaves shed quickly and completely—but they look almost as beautiful lying on the ground. One caution: There are male and female ginkgo trees. The females produce foul-smelling fruit, so plant only male selections, such as Saratoga and Shangri-la. Don’t count on this tree for quick shade–young gingkos grow slowly.
This is absolutely one of my favorite trees. It is one of the earliest native trees to exhibit fall color—showing off leaves in brilliant shades of yellows, reds, and purples—predominately red. And that is not all. In summer it is covered with long (10”) racemose-panicles of white very fragrant flowers. The inflorescence looks like long, slender, out stretched fingers. Small wonder that Dr. Michael Dirr in his tome, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, says, “Truly an all-season ornamental; excellent specimen plant; it has so many attributes that it should only be considered for specimen use; many gardeners feel, among native trees, this is second only to flowering dogwood.” Plant in full sun or partial shade although flowering and fall color are best in full sun. Acid soils preferred. Not for polluted or urban areas.
• Flowering Dogwood
Frankly, the tiers of white flowers that clothe the branches in spring are quite enough to sell anyone on this tree. But then comes the second show in fall, with dropping red leaves and bright-red berries. Variegat-ed selections, such as Cherokee Sunset, offer even more color. Remember it prefers light shade rather than full sun. And be sure to water this shallow-rooted tree during summer droughts, or scorched leaves may ruin the fall show.
• Black Gum
You can count on this native tree to be among the first to change color in the fall. You can bet the first tinge of red foliage you see will probably be on this tree. Fall leaf color is mostly red with some trees exhibiting yellows, oranges and purple colors as well. One of my favorite childhood playhouses was built under the huge canopy of the black gum. My sister, brother and I enjoyed many a summer day perched up high in the huge horizontal limbs of this magnificent tree. It is somewhat hard to find in the nursery trade, but well worth the hunt. This is an excellent specimen tree, good street tree in residential areas, but not for heavily polluted areas. It has outstanding summer and fall foliage and habit, well suited for naturalized areas and certainly one of the very best and most consistent native trees for fall color. Another plus is the bluish black drupe fruit that ripens in the fall and is eaten by many species of birds and mammals. It doesn’t tolerate high pH soils and grows in semi-shade or full sun.