It’s always exciting for me to see the first fall colors of the season. We may not have a show like they do in the hardwood forests of the East Coast, but we’re still barbecuing and they’re surely not.
If your garden cries out for a large shade tree — something you can put a table and chairs under and still have room to play — consider a red maple. Autumn blaze maples spread to 40 feet wide, and you’ll enjoy their brilliant orange-red fall color long into the autumn. They need an occasional deep watering, like a fruit tree, but little pruning.
Take advantage of fall weather to plant cool-season flowers. October is a great month to plant, as the plants will have time to become established and start flowering before winter sets in. You’ll be amazed at how much color your plants will produce when you start early. Good choices for this area include Iceland poppy, snapdragon, chrysanthemum paludosum, calendula, stock, pansy, viola, primrose and cyclamen.
Get set for spring wildflowers
Gardeners who sow wildflower seeds in the fall may envision a springtime scene of brightly colored blossoms billowing in the, breeze with butterflies and bees dancing from bloom to bloom. But sometimes, when spring arrives, weeds — not wildflowers — steal the show.
The most common mistake when planting wildflower seeds is not getting rid of the existing weed and grass seed that is in the soil and that germinates along with the wildflowers. These fast-growing weeds smother the slower-growing wildflowers. For a more successful planting, take time to eliminate the competition.
First, choose a site in full sun. To get rid of existing weeds, cultivate the soil 3 to 4 inches deep and remove all the weeds. This method will have the least environmental impact.
The next step is crucial. Soak the soil thoroughly, and then wait for the weed seeds to germinate. When they do, lightly cultivate the soil to a depth of not more than 1 inch. Deeper cultivation exposes more weed seeds that will germinate along with the wildflower seeds.
Before sowing the seeds, rake the soil to form shallow grooves. Ensure an even distribution of seed by mixing them with four times their volume of sand, and broadcast the mix by hand. Rake the seed lightly into the soil and tamp it for good soil contact. Wait for fall rains to germinate the seeds. You can water to keep the soil moist if rains don’t come.
Next year, after the plants have dried and dropped their seed, cut the old stalks down to 3 to 6 inches high. Be sure to take pictures of your meadow in the spring with the butterflies, bees and birds enjoying it.
• Jan Nelson, a California certified nursery professional at Plant Works in Ben Lomond, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at [email protected].

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Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California-certified nursery professional, answers questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at [email protected] or visit


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