“…I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. So I have spent almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”
— Nathaniel Hawthorne
We are so fortunate to live in a region that enjoys long, lovely autumns which encourage hardy plants and trees to extend their colorful season finale well past Thanksgiving. However, this prolonged delight is not always easy for the plants. They have to tolerate the temperature teases over these weeks, coping, repeatedly, with rapid shifts from daytimes in the 60s, or even low 70s, and then nighttimes in the 40s or even 30s.
One reason they are successful is that frost is a function of several subtle variables, especially in temperature. It doesn’t just happen the second the thermometer hits 32 degrees F. Frost actually develops anytime the temperature falls to between 33 and 36 degrees F for at least several hours.
Weather reports reflect the difference by predicting light frost or heavy frost. Also, whether a specific plant actually experiences frost damage at that temperature range depends on a host of other issues — for example, its species, age, location, light and wind exposure, soil moisture, air moisture.
Then a freeze occurs when the temperature falls to 32 degrees F or lower. If it lasts for only a few hours, it is a light freeze which some plants can handle. Once the temperature drops to below 28 degrees F for a time, we have a hard freeze which closes the curtain on our wonderful autumn season.
When you walk across your lawn does it feel squishy? This time of year moles are particularly active in their pursuit of worms, grubs and other soil denizens. While their tunnels may disturb your turfgrass somewhat, consider that the moles are also aerating the soil and eating the white grubs which reduces your Japanese beetle population in July.
Moles are sort of squinty and ugly, but don’t hold that against them. They live underground the whole time. They resemble rodents, but are related to bats and shrews. Their smooth gray hairy coats, tiny eyes, pointed snout and claw like front legs suit them for their energetic tunnel excavation.
Moles make two types of tunnels: semi-permanent runway ones for hunkering down in dry, hot summers and frozen winters and shallow, temporary surface ones for foraging for food. They can dig an 18 foot surface tunnel in search of grubs in an hour. These are are the humps we feel in the lawn that damage the grass.
When I find these tunnels I promptly stomp the lawn sod down to collapse them. This usually preserves the grass plants. Moles rarely reuse the surface tunnels. If you must remove the mole, there are all kinds of mole control suggestions out there, but the only one that really works is a trap. Set it carefully, according to instructions to assure humane capture.
This time of year the birds and other wildlife in and around our yards are foraging for seeds, acorns and berries from the plants we grow. They certainly do not have to look hard for the wonderful berries on my winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata). Unlike the classic spined, dark green evergreen leaves, this shrubby version of holly has simple, oval green leaves that drop in the fall. Then the gorgeous red berries that cluster thickly along the branches of the female winterberry are on full display.
Usually red, though possibly orange or yellow depending on the type of winterberry, they are standouts in the winter landscape. These shrubs tend to have suckering roots, so they will spread into a thicket over time. I welcome this because I feel better about cutting some berried branches for myself. When there are so many, I know the animals will get their share too.
Direct your Yardening questions to Liz Ball at the Springfield Press: 1914 Parker Avenue, Holmes, PA 19043 or email@example.com.
©2012 Liz Ball