Gardening Tips: October 12, 2011

Fall Foliage
You do not have to garden at all to witness the beauty of our local plant life at this time of the year. It is sad that sometimes we take things for granted that are free as if money determines value. Thousands of tourists will travel here in the next few weeks specifically to look at our trees. Along the way they will spend money at our restaurants, gas stations, hotels, gift shops and other businesses. Right now our local economy can use the income, especially areas devastated by the floods. Sadly, this is not shaping up to be a great year for fall foliage. The excessive rain we had most of the summer caused many fungal diseases on the leaves of most tree species. Sugar maples in particular, I have noticed, have dropped many leaves before they turn color as have ash trees.

The golden colored trees so prominent on the mountains are most likely sugar maples. This species comprises most of the cooler regions forest cover. Other yellow colored trees include the birches, aspen, beech and some of the hickories as well as hop hornbeam (ironwood). North or northeast facing slopes in particular are likely to feature sugar maple. Interspersed with them on somewhat wetter sites are red maples that often have brilliant red leaves. These contrast beautifully with the evergreen white pines that also seem to tolerate slightly moister conditions.

Lower in the valleys and on the southern facing hillsides red oak forests feature auburn or dark red colored fall foliage. The oaks tend to hold their leaves longer than maples providing a lingering view even after most trees are leafless. On younger trees the red leaves turn brown but may cling to the branches well into December. Young beech trees do the same thing changing from yellow to brown. White ash also comprises a substantial amount of our forest cover but their purple leaves drop quite early in the season most years.

Many small trees or shrubs and even vines also have beautiful color ranging from the clumps of scarlet colored staghorn sumac trees to purple colored Virginia creeper vines to the bright yellow and sometimes red poison ivy leaves. I never thought I would write something nice about poison ivy but even this rash inducing plant is not without its virtues. On the forest floor in special spots we see golden colored ginseng leaves that look almost exactly like its foliar look alike, wild sarsaparilla.

Two weeks ago I hiked down a pretty steep and deep gorge and up the other side only to learn that what I thought were three big ginseng plants were actually sarsaparilla. This is not the first time nor is it likely the last time I have been fooled by Mother Nature.

I am a lucky man, not only because I can still physically get out and experience the fall forest but because I am old enough to appreciate it far more than any exotic vacation.