Thursday, September 27, 2012

The First Fleeting Signs of Fall

Anticipation is building. 

I sense it, my cats sense it (even the fat fluffy one occasionally zooms around in a spontaneous show of joie de vivre) and my garden senses it. Fall is coming!

Leaves are slowly wafting down from the elms in the back yard. The elms have a gentle, soothing leaf drop. By contrast, the giant live oak in the front seems to dump all its leaves at once. I'll glance out the window one day and voila! another thick layer of leaves will be added to the mulch. 

Fall peeked around the corner in Tampa for a few days, with refreshingly cool mornings and oh-so-welcome lower humidity. Now it's gone back into hiding. But it will return, hopefully to stay, very soon.
beautyberry branch close-up
Luscious beautyberry, a native Florida shrub

Fall in my garden actually began back in August, when I noticed the faint blush of purple creeping over the berries on my beautyberry bush. The berries are now completely and gloriously that rich plum color that make this shade-lover such a showstopper.
Narrow-leaved sunflower
 about to open

The blossoms on the narrow-leaved sunflowers in the butterfly bed are just beginning to open. Last year, these native sunflowers, also called swamp sunflowers, reached a towering height of 11 feet. This year, I cut them back to about two feet in early July to keep them in check. They are topping out at a more reasonable 6 feet this year.

Mexican sage
The beautiful thick Mexican sage is in full bloom, delighting the bees who emerge from the conical purple bloom stalks wearing yellow "hip waders" of pollen. Bees are very, very bizzzzy right now in my yard.

What's your favorite harbinger of Fall in the garden?

We've had a flurry of butterflies over the past couple of weeks. They seem to be in a hurry to get their last nectar-sipping and egg-laying completed before winter.

I cut back my scarlet milkweed recently
   so it won't tempt migrating monarchs
 to stick around my yard for the winter. 

I just cut back my non-native scarlet (tropical) milkweed for the winter, after hearing warnings from a researcher who spoke at the state Florida Native Plant Society conference this year about the potential for this milkweed (which blooms all year in Florida, unlike our native milkweeds) encouraging migratory monarch butterflies to stick around instead of wintering in Mexico. When they do, their progeny almost inevitably fall victim to a cold snap. 

Rick and I saw this first-hand a few years ago, We watched a  monarch emerge from its chrysalis one cold morning in December, only to watch it flutter feebly for an hour before falling to the ground and dying.

So, just to be safe, I began cutting back my milkweed in early September. 

One of my favorite fall garden beauties is the native muhly grass. This thick, clumping grass blooms only in the Fall. Most of the year it's a Plain Jane content to blend into the background. But when those feathery pink plumes appear, it takes center stage. 

So far, I've seen only a single pink tuft. But as we know,  the best things in life -- and in our gardens -- are worth waiting for. 

I'm enjoying the wait. 
My beautyberry shrub surrounded by dwarf Walter's viburnum, holly fern,
cardboard palm and liriope


  1. Your beautyberry and Mexican sage are lovely. I didn't know you could cut back grasses in the fall. I have blue-eyed grass that is looking weary. I wonder if I should cut it back now instead of waiting for spring?

  2. I don't know, Daisy. Someone at the Native Plant Society would have an answer, I bet. I haven't cut back any grasses. Just my milkweed plants. I usually cut back muhly grass in the early Spring.

    The beautyberry is one of my favorites plants. So is the Mexcian sage -- I love its fuzzy leaves.

  3. That is such a sad Monarch story! I have my milkweed in pots; I think I'll bring them all inside. If I cut them back, they just grow leaves again and butterflies find them. As it seems I am the only source of milkweed in South Beach, I am usually at near-infestation levels of Monarch butterflies…they eat the plants so fast, I have no idea what color the flowers are because they've never had a chance to bloom.

    1. Dan, I don't think you have to worry about your milkweed in South Florida, since you are far less likely to experience really cold temperatures. We do have non-migratory monarchs here all year so providing food for them is great. This is more an issue in areas that do receive some really cold weather. I'm in Tampa and it can get pretty nippy here.