The Garden Thyme Podcast

S03:E09 Fall Colors

September 12, 2022 Garden Thyme Podcast Season 3 Episode 9
The Garden Thyme Podcast
S03:E09 Fall Colors
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

 Hello Listener,  

Fall is almost here, and we are ready. Nothing signals the start of fall like the changing of the leave. In this episode, we discuss what causes the leave to change color. It was also really hard to choose, but we picked our top 5 trees with the best fall color.  We also have some suggestions for shrubs, grasses, and flowers that make great additions to the garden in the fall. 

We also have our: 

  •  Native Plant of the Month - New England Aster ( ~37:22 )
  • Bug of the Month - Paper wasps (~41:30)
  • Garden Tips of the Month  (~49:15)

If you have any garden-related questions, please email us at or look us up on Facebook at For more information about UME and these topics, please check out the UME Home and Garden Information Center and Maryland Grows Blog at 

 The Garden Thyme Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Hosts are Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Associate (Talbot County) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Agent Associate for Horticulture (Queen Anne's County), and Emily Zobel-Senior Agent Associate for Agriculture (Dorchester County).

Theme Song: By Jason Inc

University programs, activities, and facilities are available to all without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, religion, protected veteran status, genetic information, personal appearance, or any other legally protected class. 

 Garden Thyme Podcast S03:E09 Fall Colors.

The Garden Thyme Podcast is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. 

: Upbeat Music: 

[00:00:01.690] - Emily

Hello, listener. Welcome to the University of Maryland Extension presents the Garden Time podcast, where we talk about getting down and dirty in your garden. We're your host. I'm Emily.


[00:00:11.400] - Mikaela

I'm Mikaela.


[00:00:12.920] - Rachel

I'm Rachel.


[00:00:14.870] - Emily

In this month’s episode. We're talking all about fall foliage and the plants that will give you great fall color for your garden.


: Upbeat Music: 


[00:00:24.270] - Emily

I don't think it's a secret to anyone who's been listening to our podcast for a long time that we all love fall.


[00:00:31.030] - Mikaela

It's that time of year that everybody's excited they've gone back to school. If you're in school and you're getting your pumpkin spice lattes, buying your pumpkins, it's a really great time of year and, well, it's my birthday, 


[00:00:49.180] - Emily

I always think of September as apple season, so like apple cider and the nice crisp apples and all that. So Im super excited for the fall. Still a little warm out, so I am pumped.


[00:01:05.860] - Rachel

 So am I. I'm here for apple cider donuts.


[00:01:10.950] - Mikaela

So we look at the changing of leaves as being kind of like the harboring of fall. But do we really understand why plants change color? Or why is it that some leaves are yellow and some are orange and some are red or some just don't have any cool color at all? 


[00:01:38.050] - Emily

Okay, so there are three factors that actually influence fall leaf color. The first one is leaf pigment. The second is the weather, and the third is daylight. It's interesting because the timing of the color change itself and the onset of fall leaves is primarily regulated by the length of the day. So what happens is as daylight gets shorter, there's a biochemical process in the leaf that causes the leaf to start to change. So there's actually a clump of cells near the stem in the leaf. And then as that daylight changes, it triggers the cells to divide and multiply and grow. And as they grow, they slowly constrict the vein, which reduces the amount of sugar that's coming into the leaf and out of the leaf. Once this happens, it triggers the chlorophyll or the green pigment to break down. So if you have leaves that have keratin or xylophone, which are the pigments for yellow and orange, those are already presents in the leave all the time. So those will become more enhanced as the green breaks down. Interestingly enough though, the red pigment is caused by anthocyanins, actually get created as the leaves undergo this process. So the red pigment is created specifically for the fall when all the other pigments are actually found on the leaves all year.


[00:02:58.430] - Mikaela

Who knew death could be so beautiful?


[00:03:01.450] - Emily

I know.


[00:03:03.930] - Rachel

 I love trees that have yellow leaves in the fall.


[00:03:17.740] - Emily

I know they're not native, but the lane by our office is aligned with ginkgo. And there's something about that beautiful yellow gold that they have. And when it all is like half fallen, so the path is covered in it and they're in the trees. They're just beautiful.


[00:03:31.440] - Rachel

They are really beautiful trees.


[00:03:33.050] - Mikaela

Do we have time for fun facts about ginkgo trees?


[00:03:36.550] - Rachel

Yeah, let's do some fun facts about ginkgo.


[00:03:39.370] - Mikaela

I got two fun facts. One is that ginkgo is like a dinosaur age tree. It just hails from a really long period of time, long ago. The second interesting thing is that a lot of those ginkgos planted on the streets, they are male, so they're diacious. They have a male and a female plant, and they primarily selected the males to plant because they don't produce these really stinky fruits, which if you guys have ever walked by ginkgo fruits, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. They're very fleshy, and then when they start to ferment, they're like, really stinky. Well, ginkgos have the ability to change their gender if they do not sense nice another female in the area. And so a lot of these male ginkgo trees have reverted to female so that they can reproduce and have created all of those stinky fruits people were trying to avoid.


[00:04:34.750] - Emily

So it's like Jurassic Park but with trees.


[00:04:37.300] - Mikaela



[00:04:38.950] - Rachel

That's pretty awesome.


[00:04:40.750] - Mikaela

The smell is very assaulting.


[00:04:44.050] - Rachel

Yes. But in a species chooses to be the gender that it can be to reproduce, that's pretty amazing, right?


[00:04:54.350] - Mikaela

Yeah, nature is really interesting that way.


[00:04:57.940] - Rachel

Yeah, it is really cool.


[00:05:00.100] - Emily

Nature finds a way.


[00:05:01.960] - Rachel



[00:05:04.210] - Emily

Okay, so the additional factors that will influence your leaf colors, particularly the weather and your leaf pigments. So obviously, trees and shrubbery that only produce certain pigments that kind of defines the coloration that they do. But the weather in particular can help determine how brilliant or bright those colors are going to be in the season. So the weather conditions that occur before and during the time where the chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling, such as temperature and moisture, are going to be your main things. If you have a secession of warm, sunny days and then crisp, cool nights that are not freezing just a little bit cooler, that's when you're going to get the most vibrant color displays. During these days, a lot of sugars are going to be produced in the least, but those cold nights allow for the veins to kind of close up, to hold and maintain a lot of the sugar in the water. This will produce the most brilliant anthocyanide pigments, which is going to give you that red, purple, and crimson colors. Because the carotenes are always present in yellow and gold, they're going to remain pretty consistent year to year.


[00:06:09.650] - Emily

But those reds and purples will be much more vibrant when we have those nice, warm, sunny days, and then again those cool, crisp nights. The amount of moisture in the soil will also affect your coloration. So the countless combinations of high variable factors in the autumn will make it so that every autumn will be a little different. A late spring or severe summer drought can also delay the onset of fall coloration by a few weeks. A warm period during the fall will also lower the intensity of your fall coloration. And likewise, a warm, wet spring and a favorable summer and warm, sunny days and with those cool nights will produce your more vibrant colorations. So now that we kind of understand a little bit about the science behind our fall leaf, what are some of you guys'favorite fall foliage trees?


[00:06:57.460] - Mikaela

So we actually had to narrow this down because we had a pretty long list when we started. But we've all pretty much concurred on these particular trees when it comes to fall color and how they look.


[00:07:11.000] - Emily

So you guys have a top five list of great fall foliage trees, but we do have a few honorable mentions.


[00:07:17.070] - Mikaela

So the first one we can talk about real quick is red maple. And lots of people give this a lot of attention. It's iconic. But there are some other choices if you're willing to kind of look outside the box. Red maples, they can vary in color. They can be brownish to reddish. It really depends on the weather, just like all those factors Emily mentioned before. And the cultivars tend to have better fall color, probably selected for that reason.


[00:07:45.590] - Rachel

I kind of feel like red maple is like a scrub tree. I'm going to get some hate for that.


[00:07:50.900] - Mikaela

Well, it's very much you know a swampy tree. It likes to be in wetlands. It creates all those surface roots. So it really doesn't make a very good landscape tree. But that's where we put it because we like that fall color. Even the cultivars, you can't breed out the way the roots grow. You can't always breed out that it drops branches. It's got many branches, so you often have to thin them out. And there's a variety of factors. So even though they're used commonly as a landscape tree, it's probably not fair because there are better landscape tree picks. But as far as fall color goes, red maples are a good one to mention. We'll give this an honorable mention on our list.


[00:08:35.530] - Mikaela

Another tree family that I think should really make the honorable mentions list is anything in the hickory family, because a lot of the hickory trees turn beautiful, brilliant yellow color, and they're pretty distinctive in the forest. So bitternut or picnic hickory are pretty common around here. One of the lesser grown, but one of my other favorite trees is the shaggy bark hickory, which, just like its name implies, it has a really interesting bark that is super exfoliated like comes off in huge sheets. It's really cool. And they have high wildlife value because they produce all of those hickory nuts.


[00:09:16.570] - Rachel

So, Mikalea, do you think shaggy bark would be like, a great alternative for people that like that bark and plant crepe myrtles?


[00:09:29.350] - Mikaela

No. The only reason I say it not because it's not comparable to them, but it's just a little different in terms of exfoliating. So it's very peeling. It doesn't come off with different shades of colors. So a good substitute for crepe myrtle, I would think, would be Sycamore, because that's kind of similar in terms of it's got kind of like camouflage pattern with different colors. The shaggy bark hickory is more of just like its coarse texture is what gives it such an interesting landscape appeal. I'm trying to think of something comparable like, I guess silver maple, but it's even more intense than silver maple bark. I feel very strongly about trees.


[00:10:16.390] - Rachel

We know you do. That's why we're letting you do so.


[00:10:20.730] - Mikaela

Our last honorable mention and the reason it makes the list, because it has some of the most intense fall color is sweet gum, which people tend to be polarized about. People feel very strongly against sweet gums because they produce the seed pods that are quite large, and people think they're messy. They don't like them in their yard. But I still think it deserves an honorable mention because the fall color is very close to some of the best that we have on our list. It has different shades of maroon, of yellow, of orange. I mean, it really has kind of every spectrum of fall color. So I think it just deserves a little attention, even though it doesn't really make our list.


[00:11:07.090] - Rachel

I love sweet gum. I know that people really don't like it because of those seed heads, but I find them interesting.


[00:11:17.720] - Mikaela

They can be sort of aggressive. They produce a lot of seedlings, but in the right place, they are a great tree.


[00:11:26.410] - Rachel

Yeah, we have them on our property in the hedge row kind of area, and I think they're just a beautiful tree to have, especially in the fall. But then they give you some type of added benefit. I mean, think about all the different wildlife that are going to use those seed heads, too, and how they colonize a little bit. I think they're a great little tree to have.


[00:11:46.330] - Emily

Okay, so on that note, what would be a more interesting fall foliage tree than the red maple? The red maple is kind of the token one people go to. What are some other alternatives that you guys can think of?


[00:11:57.950] - Mikaela

So I'm manipulating the list as we talk because I felt like our number five was too good to be number five, so I bumped tulip poplar to number five, which is a very beautiful color. The leaf shape itself is already really interesting, and the leaves pretty much hold their shape when they change color. So it's not like they curl up and dye. They're pretty much they stay the same shape as they fall, and it's a very deep yellow. So the tulip poplar's mature height is up to 70ft, but it has a very narrow form, so it actually grows very straight and very tall, which is great. That means it doesn't form those multi branch trunks that are at risk for falling, like some of the maples are breaking and it creates great shade. And there's a tulip shaped bloom in the spring once it matures, which is another great bonus. It's great for pollinators and it's just really another iconic kind of leaf shape that we're particularly fond of out here on the Eastern shore, too.


[00:13:04.470] - Rachel

 I love tulip poplars because of their interesting bark color as well, so it adds that winter interest to your landscape as well. Once the leaves are gone. It has a very modeled, almost white with gray bark color, and it's very smooth.


[00:13:21.190] - Mikaela

Okay, Rachel, what's number four?


[00:13:24.250] - Rachel

So number four is one of my favorite native trees, and that's the bald cypress. Although we're on the northern range for bald cypress, it is a beautiful tree to have in your landscape. And although many of our conifers are evergreens, the bald cypress is a deciduous conifer. So they shed their needle like leaves in the fall and back. The name bald cypress comes because they do drop their leaves so early in the season, and the fall color is like this bright, fiery orange, almost gold to cinnamon, and it's just such a beautiful tree and it has a very interesting bark as well. Now, they do like to be in somewhat wetter areas, so if you are going to plant one, you need to make sure that you have the size and the space for it and the wetness, because they like to have really.


[00:14:15.960] - Mikaela

Wet feet, and in fact, they will form what we call knees. So they're like little nodules of root mass that kind of pop up. And if it's in a really wet area, they grow in standing water. So they'll actually pop these knees up through the water, through the mud. It's just a really cool tree. Another really ancient species.


[00:14:37.750] - Rachel

It is a very ancient species, and like I said, if you have time to take a little trip to Trap Pond in Delaware and visit their bald cypress stand or to go canoeing through there, it is just an amazing trip. So it's one of my favorite places to visit.


[00:14:54.750] - Mikaela

We were down in Virginia Beach earlier this year, and First Landing State Park, which is just outside of Virginia Beach, also has some really cool stands of bald cypress swamp. There are a couple of areas I think that are sort of nearby, very coastal, but great opportunities to see bald Cyprus.


[00:15:15.490] - Emily

Yeah, I think these guys are particularly unique because you don't think of conifers as having fall foliage.


[00:15:22.360] - Mikaela

Exactly. Another really cool conifer that is also deciduous and also has a really cool fall color, is the larch, which is not I don't believe it's native to Maryland, but it is in the Midwest and in Wisconsin, and those were some of the coolest trees to see in the fall. Are these like deciduous evergreens? Which is an odd thing to say. Deciduous conifers, I think is a better term.


[00:15:46.510] - Emily

The number three tree on our list is black gum. Few trees are able to compete with black gum in regards to summer and fall color. In September, it's deep green foliage, gives way to an intense hues of red, orange, yellow and can even go into the purple scheme as well, which makes it a wonderful selection for home landscape. In the landscape, these trees can reach a mature height of about 30 to 50ft and can spread about 20 to 30ft. So it's a reasonable size tree, which makes it ideal for a home landscape, particularly compared to some of the other ones on our list.


[00:16:21.550] - Rachel

Now, when you think about black gum versus sweet gum, sweet gum is in a separate species altogether from black gum. So black gum, you're not going to get those messy balls like you do with sweet gum, so people can think about it that way.


[00:16:37.740] - Mikaela

That's a really good point, Rachel.


[00:16:39.650] - Emily

I believe the black gum does have fruit, though, so it does have a high wildlife value without like, the messy seeds that also kind of can add to it.


[00:16:49.210] - Rachel

Yeah, and that's incredibly important in the fall as our wildlife is storing up fat to hibernate or to migrate. So it's a really intrinsic tree to have in your landscape.


[00:17:02.530] - Emily

So we did have some debate about which one should be number one and which one should be number two. So, Rachel, would you like to tell us about our number two tree on this list?


[00:17:11.150] - Rachel

All right, so our number two tree, Sassafras. It is absolutely one of my favorite trees to find in the fall and even find in the midst of summer. And it produces some of the most interesting leaves of any woody species in the Northeast, in my personal opinion. The leaves are simple and alternate, and they are bright green in the summer, and then they turn this fire engine red and yellow and orange. So they have a mix of all of those colors in the fall. And the shape of the leaves is what's the most interesting aspect of the plant for me, because you have these different lobed leaves and they're just really interesting to find. An important fact is that it is an understory plant that grows on the woodland edge or in woods. So being an understory tree, it likes to be in part shade to part sun. It is really soil tolerant, so they'll grow in clay or loam or even sandy, acidic soil if there is adequate drainage provided. And they also need to be protected from heavy winds. Like, you just can't throw them in an area that's going to get really windy.


[00:18:25.630] - Rachel

sassafras has a really interesting history. It's native to North America and was used by the Native Americans for different medicinal uses and as a cooking spice. And this was recorded as early as 1577. The Choctaw Indians first used and dried the ground leaves as a seasoning and as a thickener, and then Sir Walter Raleigh brought it back to England from Virginia.


[00:18:51.220] - Emily

Awesome. Thanks, Rachel. So, Mikaela, what is our number one fall foliage tree?


[00:19:00.130] - Mikaela

Oh, man, super excited. So it probably is no surprise it's sugar maple. So while the red maple is more widespread and probably more common, especially out on the coastal plain and does have some nice fall color in itself, it's really hard to compare to the sugar maple. This hardwood tree belongs to the Piedmont and Mountain ranges, especially areas that have cooler climates. So we'll definitely find these more out west in Maryland and definitely in the Northeast and the Midwest of the country. It has maybe the loveliest fall, oranges, reds and yellows, but it's also better known for its sappy by product, aka maple syrup. And this tree is just the iconic fall tree. It's a medium sized sort of tree. It works well in the landscape. I think it represents up to like 9% or 10% of hardwood forests in its native ranges. But it definitely also makes a nice landscape tree for the fall color. Of course it's a nice shape. It doesn't get too large. I think it's about 40 to 50ft tall with an equal spread, if not maybe a little bit more. And I think some records have stated that in about 1663, a chemist informed Europe about this thin bark tree that produced a sweet sap.


[00:20:27.580] - Mikaela

It was something that Native Americans, of course, taught settlers about how they processed this product and probably the first beginnings, of course, of maple syrup. But Native Americans have probably been involved in it for much longer, much earlier than that. But that's kind of like the first recorded history about maple syrup. I won't go into maple syrup facts, but it also has wood that is highly sought after. It has high value in terms of lumber and definitely in wood making and furniture. And some other historic uses include making soap from the ashes, using the bark as a dye, and Native Americans would also use the inner bark to make a tea to treat coughs and diarrhea. But of course, we are not medical professionals. We do not advocate for the use of these type of products on your own without consulting your medical health care provider.


[00:21:25.270] - Emily



[00:21:26.350] - Mikaela

But we can advocate for maple syrup because that for sure is something that's delicious.


[00:21:34.270] - Rachel

That's a given.


[00:21:35.710] - Mikaela

All right, I think that concludes our very opinionated list of best fall color. Although we should also really quickly maybe talk about some shrubs that have equally good color. We narrowed it down to a lot of native plants, so I know Rachel's favorite is oak leaf hydrangea.


[00:21:57.880] - Rachel

It is my favorite, hands down, and not just because it has cool fall color, but the bark is just so cool, too. The bark is almost like a river birch. It has that, like, torn appearance. And I mean, the fall color for oak leaf hydrangea is outstanding. It's got that deep crimson, red, almost burgundy leaves that last for a long time. And then the flowers for an oak leaf hydrangea almost look like an upside down snow cone. So they're just absolutely beautiful. But you have to have the right space for it because it likes that part shade, part sun environment, and it can get really big if it's happy. I planted one probably eight years ago in like a corner of our house, and it had a good ten foot space, and the thing is taken over the entire space. I love it because it fills in a blank canvas and I don't really have to worry about anything in the summer because it's just this giant oak leaf hydrangea.


[00:23:06.920] - Mikaela

Another shrub that gets really cool, dark maroon leaves in the fall is Virginia Sweet Spire. And there's a lot of cultivars available that kind of highlight its fall color because it is so red. Another one of my really favorite one is anything in the blueberry family. So vaccinium, they will turn a wide range of yellows and oranges and reds as well.


[00:23:33.220] - Rachel

And we also have Eronia arronia.


[00:23:39.490] - Mikaela

Unfortunately, the Japanese beetle got my eriona this year, so I don't have a lot of leaves left for turning color, but still beautiful color, and I'm not sure if they go after our budifolia or not. I have melanocarpa, so maybe they are more resistant, but viburnum are fantastic.


[00:24:00.510] - Emily

That's one of my favorites. Yeah.


[00:24:02.340] - Mikaela

And there's so many different species of viburnum, and so they can change color at different times, so you can really have a nice staggering of color change depending on what species you plant. I have arrow wood viburnum at my house, and it seems to turn really late, and it will get like a maroon to kind of yellow color depending on where it is in the yard.


[00:24:25.770] - Rachel

And I know one of your favorites is sumac. I don't think you can talk enough about sumac.


[00:24:34.090] - Mikaela

I know Sumacs have the best fall color. You guys, everybody hates on sumac, but this time of year, let me tell you, they look fantastic. And they also have those clusters of berries, which are kind of very pretty as well.


[00:24:49.630] - Rachel

Yeah, they are beautiful. So those are our shrubs.


[00:24:53.270] - Emily

So hopefully we've convinced all of you guys, if you were considering putting in a shrub or tree anytime soon, these are some great additions to your landscape that will help heighten it during the fall. The fall is a great time of the year to plant trees and shrubs. There's a few exceptions of this. Things like dog woods, white oaks, tulip poplar, and some of those more softer wood plants do prefer to be planted in the spring. But as long as your soil is not frozen, you can plant a lot of these species in the fall. And there's some benefits from doing it in the fall and that it gives them a longer period of time to start establishing a root system before the summer heat really comes in. So if you are going to plant anything in the fall, we do recommend take that soil test first.


[00:25:38.090] - Mikaela

Ding, ding, ding.


[00:25:39.050] - Emily

Always take a soil test. It goes back to that. Putting a $5 plant in a $25 hole. Well, it's much easier to amend those soils now and plant and wait and plant in the spring if need be, then to plant and then take that test in the spring and find out that you need to shift things around when you already have a living plant in there.


[00:25:58.780] - Rachel

Very true.


[00:26:00.140] - Emily

Yeah. So some other tips for getting ready to plant, particularly trees and shrubs, is the soil around your site should be moist before you plant. So when you dig your hole, take a few minutes to kind of soak it down and make sure you soak the root ball as well before you put it in. This just gives the plant a nice good drink of water before it goes in, because, again, it doesn't have any root system established yet, so giving it that nice soak will be really beneficial to it. We do not recommend loosening up the soil underneath where you're going to be planting it. This can lead to compaction issues once you put the plant in. And as it grows, it will compact that area, making it harder for those roots to get established and to spread out. We also don't recommend adding organic matter into the bottom of the hole either. I know a lot of people think that this is really good because it gives nutrients to the plants right away. But what happens is the plant will sink its roots down into that layer of organic matter and it will stop spreading until it uses up all that organic matter.


[00:27:01.750] - Emily

The organic matter will also hold water there as well, which can eventually lead to root rot. Newly planted trees and shrubs do not require fertilizer for the first few years. And in fact, if you do fertilize them, they're going to take that fertilizer and spend a lot more time putting on leaves, which is not what you want them doing in the fall at all. And even in the spring, they'll put all of that energy into their lease. And what you really want those first few years is a good root system being built. So if you want more planting tips and advice on how to get that great $25 hole for your $5 plant, we recommend checking out the university of Maryland Extensions Home and Garden Information Center.


[00:27:40.980] - Mikaela

And just as a reminder, Home and Garden Information Center has a great series of YouTube videos covering like every topic imaginable on their YouTube channel, including how to plant a tree. So it's kind of nice sometimes to have a visual.


[00:27:56.390] - Rachel

Yeah, that's a great recommendation, Mikaela.


[00:27:59.580] - Mikaela

I always forget about it. I just watched one the other day, I'm like, I didn't know we had this.


[00:28:05.990] - Emily

So we know that when it comes to the fall, the trees and the shrubs tend to steal the spotlight because they're big, they're beautiful, they're bold, you notice them as you're driving around. But they are not the only plants that have some great fall color that add to our landscape. So for some of us, we might have limited size on our landscapes. The trees and shrubs may not be an ideal option for fall color. So Mikaela, I can tell you're super excited for this. What are some great grasses that you can plant to add some  fall color?


[00:28:38.470] - Mikaela

So you guys told me to pick three grasses and three flowers. So I picked five of each. So I'm going to go ahead and say the five grasses. So we definitely have some really great options. And in fact, I'm going to change one of my answers on the spot because I think it will be better suited for a home garden situation. I'm going to talk about some grasses that are more manageable size. Emily is totally right. Not everybody has the space to plant a tree or a shrub. But certainly even if you have a little strip of lawn, you could easily replace them with some native grasses or fall blooming wildflowers. So top five grasses, little blue stem has the best color probably hands down. It turns like reddish color in the fall. It's got beautiful fuzzy seeds on it. There's a lot of different varieties available, different cultivars, but even the straight species is really great. You know, I also have to mention broomsedge because it's probably one of my all time favorites. And not to mention it's going to give you color all winter long. So not only does it look great in the fall, but it will continue to look great throughout the season until you cut it down in the spring.


[00:29:52.290] - Mikaela

Purple love grass is one that people don't often think about, but this is a very short grass. It's only like, I think 2ft tall maybe. And it looks like clouds of pink seeds. It's really beautiful and it's really good for tough soils, like really dry areas. So it might be great next to sidewalks or actually I find it on the side of the road all the time where there's like really crappy soil. It's really hot and dry. But co is another one. And I know you guys are familiar with this one as well. The seed head is probably the most distinctive. It's the largest seed and they kind of droop and they make a little soft clacking noise when the wind blows them. They really are beautiful, but they can be aggressive if you don't cut those seed heads back after a certain amount of time. So if you're worried about them spreading, after you've enjoyed them, cut them back. Although I encourage to leave them because they look great through the season, and then prairie drop seed is one that's one of my favorites, just like the name implies, the seed is very globular, so it's very round and the leaves are very tidy and they're shorter.


[00:31:00.380] - Mikaela

But then the stocks that have the seeds on them grow a little bit taller, and they really do. They just look like little drops, droplets of golden light. So prayer drops. I know, isn't that poetic? So I really do like prairie drop seed. I think that makes a really nice landscape grass.


[00:31:17.810] - Emily

So I know one of my favorite fall blooming native perennials is golden rod. I love the little pops of yellow. I just think it's a really pretty plant. I know that sometimes they can get a little ratty looking, like they're not very manicure-ish because they're sort of all over the place, but they have a very high wildlife value. They have all kinds of native bees that will come to them. They have several different goldenrod beetles that you can find on them. You will oftentimes find the golden rod spittle bug on them, which if you come and it looks like there's a big blob of spit on it, that's a spittle bug. He's living inside there. He's not going to harm the plant, he's not going to hurt you, your pets or your kids, but he just lives inside this big spit wad in order to keep himself safe. I think that they are super fun. The nice thing about golden rod is that there are lots of different varieties, so that you can probably find one that's ideal for your soil type in your environment. There's the seaside one, which I believe tolerate wet a little bit better, and there's, I don't remember the variety, but there's one that tolerates the heat a little bit better if you have dry soil. So it's a really nice, diverse group that gives you that little pop of yellow in the fall time.


[00:32:27.690] - Mikaela

Emily is exactly right. We have something like 27 different species of golden rod, and you mentioned sometimes they can look ratty. I think that's a couple of species, not all of them look ratty, depending on where they are and how bad the summer was. So I agree that there's probably a species that could fit in anywhere. There's also wreath goldenrod, which does a little bit better in the shade and in woodland environment. So it doesn't necessarily need a full sun hot environment. It doesn't need to be a meadow. It can fit in well, in the home garden as well.


[00:33:02.450] - Rachel

I think it's really important to mention that in the fall we get a lot of complaints or you hear a lot of people saying, "oh, that golden rod. My eyes are itchy. I'm sneezing," but in actuality, the culprit is going to be ragweed, and both plants are members of the Asteriska family and they grow very commonly in roadsides and ditches or open fields. But golden rod flowers have a heavier pollen that stick to our insect bodies versus ragweed. The ragweed pollen is very lightweight and easily transferable, and the pollen for ragweed has the ability to blow for miles. And one single ragweed plant is capable of producing over a million pollen grains, so what you think is golden rod causing your allergies is an actuality ragweed. And ragweed is a very inconspicuous plant, and it really doesn't have a very bright bloom like goldenrod. So that's why the two are easily confused when you get that fall allergy.


[00:34:13.630] - Mikaela

So the Astra group is a very broad group that belongs to the composite flower family, which is really critical to a lot of pollinators because it provides a lot of different species of bee and insect with access to nectar and pollen. But we have all sorts of different aster of different shapes and sizes and colors. My native plants of the month is actually an astras . I'm not going to linger on this particular group right now. But whitewood Asters is another one, which actually is not in the symphony of tricky genus. It's in its own genus, but it also is very attractive. And this is a really nice option for shady areas. Most of the asters prefer full sun, but whitewood aster, just like the name implies, will grow in more shaded environments. And it's a very tough plant, so it can handle dry and even handle kind of wet. The area I have it in is fairly wet and it seems to be doing just fine. And then one group I think is also worth mentioning because these late season nectar sources are super important to all of our insects, is late flowering boneset, which is a type of euphoriterium, or common boneset, which is a different species of eupitorium.


[00:35:27.730] - Mikaela

But both of them produce small clusters of white flowers, very distinctive, and they're usually pretty tall and they can grow in just about any soil condition available. So some people actually think they're weeds. I get at least one picture a year, probably more than that, where people are asking about boneset and wondering if it's a weed that they should remove. So my last pick is swamp sunflower, which is a plant that I spend all year waiting to see because it's probably the last blooming perennial in the landscape. I don't know if you guys can refute that claim or not, but it can bloom into November sometimes. And just like it says, it's a sunflower, so it's a very bright yellow flower that's very distinctive. So it's really kind of cool to see such a cheery bright color at the end of October and beginning of November. So that kind of endears it to me a little bit because it's like that's how I know fall is over and that we're approaching winter is when the sunflower blooms and when it starts to fade away.


[00:36:39.630] - Emily

Well, that's a great list of flowers, which can also help add a pop of color in your garden in the fall.



:Bird song: It's the Native Plant of Month with Mikeala.  


[00:37:00.670] - Mikaela

Okay, so my native plant of the month is no surprise. It's New England Aster, which is Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, which is maybe not the right pronunciation, but I gave it my best shot. So, just in time for our topic of interest this month is New England Aster, and it's a great pick for September. This is a native herbaceous perennial that is easily identified by the electric purple flowers, and they have bright yellow ray flowers in the center, so it's a very iconic looking aster. But this plant is not for shy growers. It does reach heights of four to 7ft tall, depending on where it is. The stems are very stiff and hairy, and you almost need to plant other things around it to have a support system so it doesn't flop over. The aster flowers are particularly notable because they are part of those late season bloomers, attracting lots of wildlife like bees and butterflies. And it is important to provide these pollinators with the source as they approach colder weather, and distinctly important for migrating monarch butterflies as well. So it's a great pop of late season color. It's very bright, distinctive, but it also is really good for clay soils, although it prefers good drainage.


[00:38:17.060] - Mikaela

I find it ironic that it'll grow in clay soils because they have poor drainage, so it kind of is pretty adaptable. I really look forward to seeing these in the fall, and they completely changed the look of the landscape just because that color is so vibrant. I will say that I have occasional challenges with this plant. This year the Japanese beetle seemed to really be attracted to the foliage, so the foliage took a hit. But this does not necessarily affect the flowering, which will happen in the fall. And the plant has a nice habit of spreading, but not aggressively so. It's really easy to propagate, and whenever I find like a little seedling, I'll move it to a place I want it to grow or I'll share it with somebody. Now, there are lots of different cultivars available with shorter heights or different variations of flower color, but honestly, I don't think anyone can beat just the straight species when it comes to the color of the flowers, so I just don't mess with it and I don't even try. But that's my native pick of the month. I have a hard time narrowing it down to one aster, but this is definitely the front runner.


[00:39:24.430] - Rachel

You know, this was the very first native plants that I planted. 


[00:39:32.090] - Mikaela

It is a special plant.


[00:39:33.070] - Rachel

It's a special plant for me. Yeah. I bought it Atkins during one of their plant sales, like, 20 some years ago. Oh, my God. And this was probably when I was still living at home, and now it's kind of taken over some of my dad's back pasture, but it's completely fine. Like, he doesn't care.


[00:39:56.170] - Mikaela

Good. Well, I was going to ask you, and I was going to ask you in what location do you have it and do you have to support it or anything?


[00:40:05.930] - Rachel

He just lets it go.


[00:40:07.290] - Mikaela

Yeah, I do, too.


[00:40:08.930] - Rachel



[00:40:09.960] - Mikaela

You just go aster! You be you. 


[00:40:12.410] - Rachel

Yeah. It's a really good mix that he has. Like, that's a mix between asters and golden rod. They pair so well together because of the purple and the yellow, the opposite spectrums of the color wheel. Yeah. So it's a really good plant. Those are two really good plants to pair together.


[00:40:34.730] - Emily

I was reading Braiding Sweet Grass at the beginning of the year, and she has a whole section where she talks about one of her grad students did a thesis project looking at why you find goldenrod and aster commonly together. And I can't remember what the conclusion was, but that just made me think of that. Anyway. Okay, awesome pick for native plant of the month.



:Buzzing sound: It's the Bug of the Month with Emily. 


[00:41:04.890] - Mikaela

And I both love and hate your pick.


[00:41:10.090] - Emily

Yeah. I feel like this group of bugs is a little misunderstood. They're one that we have a lot of negative feelings around because of the potential for them to sting. And they do tend to get more aggressive in the fall as they're wearing out their queens that will be overwintering. So my pick for bug of the month for this month is paper wasps. This is a type of wasp, so it's in the family vespidea, so it has the notched eye. You've got roughly about 300 species worldwide. Paper wasps are semi-social insects, meaning that they form a colony that contains three classes. So they'll have workers, which are females. They'll have a queen, which is your reproductive one, and then they'll have drones or males that are basically just there for mating, and then they throw them out. So there are many different types of paper wasps that will have different habits and life cycles. The ones you're going to commonly find here in the Mid-Atlantic area are going to be about 3/8 to 1/4 of an inch in length. They're going to have brownish to yellow markings. We've got a few species that will have some red markings.


[00:42:14.720] - Emily

They tend to have a slender, narrow waist with kind of smoky black wings that are folded when they're at rest. Paper wasp should not be confused with yellow jackets, which a lot of people will confuse them because yellow jackets have very similar colorization. Their also in the family Vespidae. Yellow jackets are the ones that actually make the big round nest that looks like it's made out of paper, which is why a lot of times people assume those are paper wasps because they think paper nest paper wasps. So paper wasps make the small umbrella shaped nests that are going to have open, exposed cells in that honeycomb sectioned, shape versus yellow jackets are going to have this sealed in nest. Bald faced hornets are another one that oftentimes get confused with paper wasps because, again, they are these colonizational ones. They sting, they can become aggressive, particularly in the fall. Again, the paper nests are going to be open cells and they tend to be in an umbrella like shape, and they tend to be a lot smaller. Like your paper wasp nest is going to be maybe about the size of your two fists, kind of put together a little bit bigger, but they're not going to be like football plus larger shape, which your hornet nest and your yellow jacket nest will get.


[00:43:31.150] - Emily

Although they are not aggressive, paper wasp can sting, making them a concern for many people, especially if that wasp is building their nest in or around the homes. And a lot of times they'll build underneath rafters or the door frames and stuff like that. I actually have a paper wasp nest that's in the boxwood next to my mailbox. So I really carefully had to trim the bush back so my mailman could get pass it and not have to worry about it. But you know what? You just prune a little and you let them calm down and you prune a little.


[00:44:00.070] - Emily

Because the one thing about paper wasps is while a lot of people are scared of them because of the fear of them getting stung, paper wasps are actually incredibly beneficial. They feed their larvae exclusively small caterpillars. So these are incredibly beneficial to have near AG fields or even near your home for your garden, because these are going to come in and feed on all these tiny young caterpillars. Those caterpillars aren't feeding on your plant. The adults feed on pollen and nectar and are sort of pollinators to some extent, but not the same way we think of a bee being it. But these guys do have some beneficial aspect with regards to bio control.


[00:44:36.730] - Emily

So during the winter, most paper wasp die, except for the new queens. And the queens will survive winter by nesting in protected places, such as under the barks of trees or on the cracks and crevices around structures. In the spring, queens will emerge and they will find your location and they'll start building their nest and colony for that year. Some queens will build solely on their own. Others will band together with several queens that will build a nest together until eventually one establishes herself as a dominant queen and forces the rest to be workers, basically. So they make their nests by scraping and chewing wood into a pasty pulp like consistency and then they shape that into the honeycomb cells. An exposed kind of umbrella shape tend to be built in protective locations such as shrubs on tree branches, porch ceilings, window and door frames, roof overhanging. If you've got a crack up in your attic, they can get into attics and build on the rafters the queen deposit an egg into a cell. After it hatches, you have a grub like immature insect that's fed the small caterpillars or other soft bodied insects. It will eventually pupate in that cell and then it will emerge out as an adult and it will become a worker to help rear other young, take care of the queen, build bigger nests and so forth. And the adults again feed mainly on nectar and pollen.


[00:45:59.890] - Emily

Although paper wasps do not readily attack people, they will sting if they feel threatened or provoked. So a lot of times if you get too close to the nest, you start shaking the shrubbery or something like that, they can feel provoked and they can sting. Their stinger is not barbed, so they can sting multiple times. They will die with the first hard frost. So at this point being September, I probably would recommend unless you have a nest that is in a very difficult location, it's probably not worth treating now and I would probably just live with it. If you do see a nest getting built in the springtime, you can definitely get some of the wasp or hornet spray and treat it. You can also call a pest control company to come out and deal with it. If you find the nest in kind of a more natural area or it's away from your structure, you should probably just leave it alone because again, these guys are beneficial.


[00:46:55.150] - Emily

 Make sure that if you are using a wasp and hornet spray, that you read the directions and that you make note of the wind patterns so that it does not blow back in you. You want to treat early evening hours when the wasps are on the nest or around it. Do not use a flashlight to light up the nest as this will irritate the wasps.  If it's something you're not comfortable doing, you can always hire to a pest control company to come and treat it. After the wasps are killed, you can knock the nest down and go ahead and dispose of it. If a new paper wasp colony continues to nest in the same area around your home, consider making some sort of alterations to the area. For example, a fresh coat of paint or varnish a lot of times will deter wasp from building nests as it makes a more slick surface so the nest does not stick as well. You can also keep your bushes well trimmed.


[00:47:45.880] - Emily

If they do start to approach you. You want to raise your hands up by your face, and you want to slowly back away. You want to remain calm and avoid swatting, or running as these quick motions could potentially cause the wasp to attack or sting. And if you wear light colored clothing, so light gray or whites, this also reduces the chance of a wasp approaching you. Unlike honeybees, paper wasps have a smooth stinger, so they can sing multiple times. If you are stung, you can put some ice on the area to do a cooling effect and to smooth it down. I will say that their venom tends to be less of an issue compared to honeybees, because, again, they have a smooth stinger, so they're stinging in, and it's not like you've got the stinger and the venom sack still in you. So the stings tend to be a little bit more docile than compared to a honeybee. And that is my bug of the month.


[00:48:37.710] - Mikaela

It's a good one, man.


[00:48:39.210] - Rachel

That is a good one.


[00:48:40.130] - Emily




:Music: It's your Garden tip of the Month with Rachel! 


[00:48:55.190] - Rachel

All right, so it's time for your tip of the month. First and foremost, we're headed into fall. And although fall doesn't officially start until September 22, hopefully by September 22, we're not in the Indian summer where it's, like, nice and cool in the morning and then blazing hot by the afternoon. Hopefully Maryland kind of figures out what she's doing, and


[00:49:22.550] - Emily

I'm not holding my breath.


[00:49:24.650] - Rachel

So as we go into the fall, remember that poison ivy leaves are going to change this month. So they're going to change from that nice, shiny green leaf to a very beautiful red leaf. That's one plant that we didn't talk about.


[00:49:40.810] - Mikaela

You know what? That should be a notable mention because they are very attractive.


[00:49:47.070] - Rachel

They are so attractive.


[00:49:49.450] - Mikaela

Super bad to touch.


[00:49:51.130] - Rachel

Yeah. And I'm pretty sure that Mikaela could just walk near one and get a rash from poison ivy. So we've talked about planting trees and shrubs this episode as well. But if you're going to plant this fall, try to avoid planting one type of shrub or one type of tree. We call this a monoculture, and when you're planting this type of environment, your trees and shrubs can be more susceptible to diseases and insects and are typically host specific, so you run the risk of losing entire colonies that you're planting. So mix it up a bit. In most cases, healthy, mature trees and shrubs do not require fertilizer, like Emily mentioned. And woody plants can receive nutrients from lawn fertilization if their roots are adjacent or growing underneath turf. So that's why we usually don't fertilize our trees and shrubs. And then the roots also take up nutrients from decaying mulches and leaves and different minerals from our soil. It's a really good month to take a soil test. If you're planning on doing any lawn revitalization or if you're planting any trees, shrubs, or perennials, hold off pruning any of your trees and shrubs until later in the fall and into the winter. Pruning stimulates growth, and any new growth produced now will not have a chance to harden off before winter, so you have more of a chance of actually harming those trees or shrubs.


[00:51:27.170] - Rachel

Spruce spider mites are active and growing on evergreens, so you want to monitor the pest by holding a piece of white paper underneath the branch and then tapping that branch down on top of the white paper. And you're going to look for black specks of moving pepper. And you can control this with an ultra fine horticultural oil, but do not use horticultural oil on blue spruce. And always make sure that you're following the label instructions and wearing your personal protective equipment. If you're going to fertilize your lawn, you want to do it in accordance with the University of Maryland Extension Fertilizer schedule and the Maryland Department of Agriculture regulations on l lawn fertilizer make sure that you sweep any fertilizer that lands on sidewalks or driveways back into the grass so that we don't have any issues of runoff from rain incidents and having fertilizer wash off into your storm drains. If you have a really bad area in your landscape that you just can't grow turf, think about this as a perfect opportunity to convert that lawn area into a lawn alternative like a flower bed or maybe plant some shrubs there, but first, always do your soil test.


[00:52:41.720] - Rachel

I love September and October because it's a really good chance for me to go through all the different varieties of bulbs that are coming out and pick out what I want to plant. So if you're like me, and I'm sure I talk about this every fall, it's like I'm beating the drum. Look for some different varieties. I have really grown to love re-blooming bearded irises because they bloom in the spring and they bloom in the fall. It's the perfect time to find a different variety that you might want to incorporate and order it and plant it. You want to do your ordering in September so you can get it in the ground before November before we get that hard freeze.  And then it falls a really good time. You can still work in your vegetable garden. You can plant lettuce, radishes, kale if you like, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage. You can buy transplants at a local home and garden store or a big box and plant those. Invest in a floating row cover so that you can cover those cold weather crops from insects like cabbage, worm and harlequin bugs so that you don't have any pests on them. They do really well under a floating row cover and they can last into November. So that's all the tips I have.


[00:53:56.890] - Mikaela

Awesome. Because as we know, September is always a really busy time of year. So I'm always thankful that Rachel reminds me of all the things I need to do.


[00:54:07.010] - Rachel

Add it to the list.



: Upbeat Music: 


[00:54:15.630] - Rachel

Well, that's all we have for this episode listener. We hope you enjoy it and we'll tune in next month for more gardening tips. If you have any garden related questions, please email us at or look us up on Facebook at garden thyme podcast. That's garden T-H-Y-M-E. For more information about the University of Maryland Extension and these topics, please check out the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center website at Thanks for listening, and have fun getting down and dirty in your garden. Goodbye.


[00:55:05.830] - Rachel

The Garden Time Podcast is a monthly podcast brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Mikaela Bowley, senior Agent Associate for Talbot County Rachel Rhodes, senior Agent Associate for Queen Anne's County and Emily Zobel , senior Agent Associate for Dorchester County University.


[00:55:24.920] - Emily

University Programs, activities, and facilities are available to all without regards to race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, religion protected, veteran status, genetic information, personal appearance, or any other legally protected class.



:upbeat music:


[00:55:49.390] - Rachel

I'm here for apple cider donuts.


[00:55:53.710] - Mikaela

Especially the one oh, my gosh, I can't remember. That's the name of it. It's up near Elton.


[00:55:58.270] - Rachel



[00:55:59.380] - Mikaela

Yes. Milburns Millburns.


[00:56:01.100] - Rachel

Yeah, that place.


[00:56:02.100] - Mikaela

They have the most bomb apple cinder donuts we make like, a special journey up there just for the donuts.


What cause leaves to change color?
Best fall colors: Honorable Mentions
#5 - Tulip Poplar
#4 - Bald cypress
#3 - Black gum
#2 - Sassafras
#1 - Sugar Maple
Fall shrubs
Great grasses and flowers for fall gardens
Native Plant of the Month
Bug of the Month
Garden Tips of the Month