Fall Faithfuls, Winter Wishes

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Pumpkins, gourds, decorative corn, and straw bales are all great ways to bring color and interest to your home in the fall and get thinking about your winter garden wishes.

Ornamental corn is especially attractive for the vivid, assorted colors of the kernels. Some varieties such as ‘Glass Gem’ and ‘Painted Mountain’ are primarily grown as Seedsan ornamental, but are also multi-use varieties, so the kernels can be used for grits, popped, or ground for cornmeal. If you grow these or other ornamental corns and want to save seeds, remember that the color of each individual kernel is determined by its genes. When saving seeds, be sure to pick out the individual seeds that have the colors you like best to grow the next year. Ornamental and field corn can be planted in temperatures slightly cooler than sweet corn, which does best when soil temperatures are at least 60°F.

What says fall harvest more than pumpkins? Pumpkin, an American native that is a cultivar of the squash plant, is celebrated as a symbol of autumn, and harvested for both decoration, good eating. Many will store perfectly well through the winter. Flat shaped pumpkins, such as the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin are some of the oldest varieties cultivated in America.

Fall is also time for planting transition specimens to carry your garden over with winter beauty. Ornamental grasses, mindfully placed bring color, texture and movement to your garden palette even as they dry during the colder months. Plants that provide winter berries do double duty as well. Not only do berries provide a colorful addition to your winter garden and holiday decorations, but they also provide much-needed food for wildlife, especially birds whether you are around to fill the feeder or not. Several small trees and shrubs put on a brilliant berry display.

Consider all the many varieties of holly, or the ‘Heavenly Bamboo’ Nandina. For low growing and groundcover options, take a look at the Cotoneaster and the Coralberry for eye popping bright berries. The yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a native holly with small, evergreen leaves and translucent red berries that line the stems. The weeping variety (Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’), has a gracefully weeping form and a bounty of bright scarlet berries that bring subtle elegance when used as a single focal point to draw your eye through the landscape.

Remember that with any landscape planting at any time of the year, select plants from varieties are proven to do well in the conditions of your yard – including sun exposure, soil type, water and airflow drainage. If you haven’t had your soil analyzed in the past three to four years, that’s your first step because success starts under your feet first. Don’t forget to check how big the plant will ultimately reach and make sure enough room is available for it to grow.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.