PRAIRIE GARDENER: Wet summer should produce colorful fall foliage

Maples, aspens and cottonwoods soon will be decked out in all their autumn glory. In fact, fall color conditions are said to be perfect for an extraordinary autumn display. This will be especially true in much of northern Minnesota, including the...

Darrel Koehler
Darrel Koehler

Maples, aspens and cottonwoods soon will be decked out in all their autumn glory. In fact, fall color conditions are said to be perfect for an extraordinary autumn display. This will be especially true in much of northern Minnesota, including the Arrowhead region and the north-central portion of the state including the Chippewa National Forest.

Forestry experts at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said this might be the best fall in a decade for all you leaf peepers. After years of dry conditions, ample moisture was reported throughout the Gopher state. The result is healthy trees with excellent color.

Good color won't be confined to Minnesota, either. In North Dakota, good fall color is expected in the Pembina Gorge area, the Turtle Mountains and the bottom lands along the Missouri River.

Ample rains returned to the northern portion of Minnesota about two years ago. The trees have rebuilt crowns and have sent moisture up into the foliage. With cool nights, the green pigments in the leaves break down, allowing the rich colors to emerge. Drought-ridden trees have few pigment-producing chemicals, which is why some areas have seen poor color in recent years. The water-enriched leaves will burst with a range of hues, from yellow and orange to burgundy and purple.

For the best color look for hills and valleys, which tend to have maples and birches. Sandy and rocky hillsides also sport lots of color.


Color spots

Favorite spots for fall-color leaf peepers include Itasca State Park near Park Rapids, Minn., Maplewood State Park, featuring lots of hard maples, near Pelican Rapids, Minn., and Lake Carlos State Park near Alexandria, Minn. The North Shore of Minnesota is an exceptional place to check out the fall colors. A favorite haunt for the Prairie Gardener, which combines fall color with apples, is nearby Bayfield, Wis., located east of the Twin Ports. That region closely resembles New England.

Save plants

It's hard to say farewell to the geraniums in fall after they have put forth blooms all summer. While some gardeners treat them as annuals and replace them with new plants the following spring, others over-winter them. The Prairie Gardener has been doing so since the 1960s with various degrees of success.

While geraniums will tolerate light frosts, they won't take a hard frost. If such an event is in the forecast, you will have to cover them and then take one of several options depending on how much time you want to spend and what kind of conditions you have to over-winter them.

The easiest way is to take cuttings and root them in the fall. Take cuttings or slips measuring about 4 inches long. Slips should be taken from the new green stems, not the woody ones. Remove leaves from the bottom 2 inches and stick cuttings in coarse sand, planting mediums or well-drained potting soil. Cuttings will root faster if you dip the ends in rooting hormone powder. Veteran gardeners often let the cut ends of the stem callous overnight before rooting. The practice is said to help stop the slip from rotting.

Cuttings should be placed two inches deep in the medium and watered thoroughly. Place in a north or east facing window or underneath artificial lights until rooted. This takes about a month. Once rooted, you can place each plant in its own pot and keep in a well-lighted spot. Keep the soil evenly moist and fertilize lightly every four to six weeks once new growth appears.

You also can pot plants and bring them indoors for the winter. Cut the plant to about one-third its original size. Carefully dig the plant and place in a six-inch or larger flower pot. Water thoroughly and place in a sunny window.


An old method, which the Prairie Gardener has used successfully, is to dig the plants, shake excess soil from their roots, and hang them from your basement joists. This only works well if you have an old-fashioned root cellar. Most basements are too warm or dry.

To keep them from drying out, you can place them in brown grocery bags and place in a corner. You can take plants down several times during winter and place the roots in water for several hours. Then pot up the plants in early spring, and place them in a sunny window. You also can plant them directly into the garden, however, they will bloom later in the season

Apples galore

There should be a bumper crop of apples this fall, both nationwide and in Minnesota. Locally, many trees are over-burdened with a large apple crop. If you have late-season apples, such as Haralson or Haralred, you can pick those in mid-October. Early and mid-season apples should have already been harvested. Check seeds and if they are dark brown, they are ready for picking.

Apples benefit from light frosts as they will sweeten the apples. A good way to store apples if you have a cool basement is with special packing. You can use apple or fruit boxes discarded by grocery stores. These boxes provide a great method to keep possible rot self-contained. Under proper conditions, you can keep late apples well into spring.


The gardening show, which has been aired on KNOX Radio for the 11th growing season, wrapped up for the season this past week. Hosts were radio personalities, Denny Johnson and Brian Michaels. The Prairie Gardener fielded gardening questions presented by listeners. Hopefully, the show will resume for its 12th year next April.

Wrong way


Plant tulips with the pointy end up, not down. An earlier column incorrectly said you should plant them the opposite direction. Sorry.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks N.D. The weekly gardening show heard over KNOX A.M. radio has been discontinued with completion of the growing season.

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