Tidewater Gardening - November 2011

November Berry Color


K. Marc Teffeau

A group of plants that add a nice touch to the fall landscape color scheme are those that bear colorful fruits. Along roadsides and wet areas, the native American Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is now in full display with its bright orange red fruit. Beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.) stands out because of the round clusters of amethyst to purple berries which remain on bare stems after willow-like leaves turn color and drop. A plant that is extensively used in the landscape as a low spreader and as an upright shrub, Cotoneaster sp. is also know for it’s fall fruit.
There are more than 70 species in this genus and Cotoneaster dammeri (Bearberry cotoneaster), Cotoneaster horizontalis and Cotoneaster lacteus are all known for their outstanding display of clusters of red or orange-red fruits.
Let’s not forget the Pyracantha. Commonly called Firethorn, this shrub bears clusters of red, orange, or yellow berries that are the size of peas. Glossy foliage is evergreen (semi evergreen in cold-winter climates). Species and varieties grow 3 to 15 feet tall and 4 to 10 feet wide. With the excellent growing conditions this year, many firethorns have really fruited heavily. Most firethorns, when planted in a full sun and in a well-drained soil, will flower and fruit regularly with little care.
Some of you might have noticed that your firethorn is not fruiting as heavily as you would like. If you have a firethorn that was once a heavy producer of fruit, observe it carefully during a sunny day to see how much shade it is receiving. As other plants begin to shade them, a significant reduction in the numbers of flowers and fruits produced will be noticed.
Try to correct the situation by pruning other nearby plants to let the firethorn have more sun. It usually pays off in that the plant will again produce more berries.
Contrary to many homeowner beliefs, fertilizers will not affect increasing fruit production on shaded firethorn. Often, over fertilization will result in increased susceptibility of fire blight, which is a bacterial disease that often kills the entire plant. So don’t try to fertilize pyracantha too heavily.
If you do want to fertilize, use a material that is low in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potassium. The cultural requirements for firethorns are similar to those of holly. They prefer to grow in full sun in a well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5.
Plant as a container grown plant in the spring. Because of their coarse, poorly branched root system, it is almost impossible to dig these plants with a ball of soil around the roots. So chose your location carefully as they are difficult to transplant.
There are some excellent cultivars of firethorns available that do well in our area. “Apache” is a semi-evergreen to evergreen compact shrub with bright red fruits that ripen in September and persist until December. ”Navaho” is a low-growing, densely branched, and mounded type with rich orange-red fruits and “Shawnee” produces bright yellow-orange berries that last until late winter. All these cultivars are resistant to scab and firelight, the two major disease problems in firethorns.
Pyracanthas get ratty in appearance over time, so it is important to do selective pruning. The yearly spring removal of vigorous growing branches will help keep this plant compact. Prune with the natural shape of the plant in mind. Don’t prune them into squares, balls, triangles or other assorted shapes! Leave the topiary pruning to the experts.
Viburnum is another excellent shrub for berry production in the fall. Among the many species, three are top performers. For best flower and subsequent fruit production, most viburnums need to be in full sun.
David’s Viburnum (Viburnum davidii) produces clusters of metallic blue fruits that appear among glossy dark green leaves. This evergreen shrub reaches 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.
European Cranberry Viburnum (Viburnum opulus) provides bright clusters of fleshy red fruits that hang on from autumn into winter. Its dark green leaves turn yellow, red, or reddish-purple in fall before dropping. This deciduous shrub reaches 8 to 15 feet tall and wide.
Leatherleaf Viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum)has clusters of fruit which turn from scarlet to black as they age. Commonly called leather leaf viburnum, it bears long, deep green leaves with wrinkled tops and a fuzzy underside. This evergreen shrub grows 8 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 12 feet wide. It is one of the viburnums which tolerates deep shade.
Every year a number of homeowners complain that their holly trees do not have berries. Hollies are dioecious plants, which means that each sex in confined to a separate plant. Therefore, to have berries on the Harriett holly you need Harry holly somewhere nearby. Most of the time, the failure of a mature female holly to fruit is because of lack of pollination. The only solution to this problem is to either replace the male plant with a female of the species or by transplanting a male plant nearby to insure pollination of the female flowers. It is important that there be a male plant within 500 feet to insure good pollination. The only time you can determine the sex of a holly is when it is in bloom and even then it can be difficult.
Vegetable gardening doesn’t stop now just because we have harvested most of the crops. If you didn’t plant a cover crop in September, you can still prepare the soil for next spring by roto-tiling it now. This will loosen the soil, making it more friable and able to absorb moisture from the fall rains. The exception to this would be when your garden has a slope to it and there might be a chance of erosion. The alternate freezing and thawing and wetting and drying of the soil during the winter will help to improve the soil structure.
Now is also a good time to work organic matter such as compost into the garden soil. Spread an inch or two layer over the garden and till it in. An alternative would be to till the soil and then sheet compost it, spreading a layer of two to three inches of compost on top of the soil. Next spring all you will have to do is rake away the compost and till the areas you will plant.
The remaining compost will serve as a mulch to control the weeds between the rows. By adding organic matter to the soil you will improve the soil structure resulting in better aeration, water percolation and nutrient retention and improved plant growth.
The other element that you can add to the garden soil now is lime. Assuming that you did a soil test, you can add the recommended lime in November and till it under. This will give it a few additional months to react with the soil and adjust the pH before your spring crop goes in. Now is not the time to fertilize the garden. Winter rains and snow will leach out most of the fertilizer nutrients in the soil, especially in sandier soils.
As the days get cooler a number of outside critters try to come inside. Besides mice, we also have insect invaders like boxelder bugs. Boxelder bugs are black and red insects about 5/8 of an inch long that resemble stink bugs. Each fall they congregate in large numbers on female boxelder trees and on the sunny side of houses near these trees. Boxelder bugs frequently invade the inside of the house through openings around windows and door. This is when they become a real problem.
Although they don’t bite, eat any stored foods or bother house plants, their presence in large numbers makes them a real nuisance. When crushed they also leave a red stain that is difficulty to remove from fabrics.
If you need to control boxelder bugs you can spray them with either an insecticidal soap or a labeled contact insecticide. A permanent solution is to remove the boxelder tree that is attracting them to your home.
It is still not too late to plant spring flowering bulbs but you better get them in soon.
Happy Gardening!