Great Ideas for the Autumn Outdoors
November, 2007 - Issue #37
While the rest of the country waits for spring to indulge in landscape jobs, we in Santa Clarita have the luxury of mild fall weather, making this the perfect time for outdoor home improvements.

This time of year, you might want to consider adding something new and exciting like a swimming pool, a sports court, a new focal point, or feature some exciting new decor - especially around the entry of your home - to earn the "ahhh-factor" for the holidays. It's also time to consider improving or even creating new areas in your landscape. And for those who love gardening, now is the time to plant trees, winter edible crops, seed for early spring flowers and to do major pruning. It's also time to prep for new lawns or lawn regeneration. Let's get started!

Special Features
When planning new landscapes or making changes, it is always wise to have an overall plan - especially for the larger features. You can sketch it yourself or call in experts. Major additions like swimming pools can establish the ambience or theme as well as add beauty and fun to your garden. Jesse Garnee of SCV Pools explains, "this is the perfect time to build a swimming pool. The building process is a lot less stressful now that there isn't that need to rush through construction for the hot weather. Still," he adds, "almost everyone is surprised how quickly we can complete building a pool that can totally transform a backyard."

Eyal Polad of Bellissimo Custom Pools recommends: "Build your pool to fit into your space and your lifestyle. There can be a temptation to build the biggest pool possible in a limited space and when it's done there's no back yard left!" He also recommends keeping safety in mind, particularly as the weather changes. "Always make sure your water features are connected to a GFI safety electrical outlet," says Eyal. That goes for any electrical outlet used outdoors.

Your new pool will afford relief on hot days, entertain children and adults alike, turn your yard postcard-perfect during the day and add a romantic glow in the evening. If you want to try something smaller with lower maintenance, you might want to add a custom waterfall to your landscape. The fresh sound of water will combine with the natural cascade to reinvent your garden. John Keshishyan at Sona's Stone and Tile explains that a well-designed waterfall can create the kind of focal point that will pull a garden together. "In fact," he says, "I liked the effect so much that we built a beautiful waterfall and a custom barbecue in the back corner of my own yard." John continued on to suggest that, "by mixing practical features like a barbecue or fire pit with the elegance of a waterfall you can create beauty that is also useful."

Another idea for re-creating your landscape might involve building a cozy area for a hot tub that you can snuggle into during our "cool" temperatures. Or consider extending your living space with an outdoor room. There are a number of contractors like American Construction Services, for example, who can help build special areas like these, plus add walkways and paths to connect the special features of your landscape.

The materials you use in your landscape can make a big difference in the look you achieve. Jodi and Heidi Gragg, owner-and-daughter team of Advantage Tile Stone Design have suggestions for perking up existing gardens. "Add a fireplace a barbecue or a stack-stone wall and it can change the look of your whole back yard," says Heidi. "Even re-facing with new tile or stone as a 'quick-fix' will have a major impact."

Whether you are building from scratch, improving or simply working on your landscape as an ongoing project, there are still many ideas you can incorporate in your garden. Jeff Leatherman of SoCal Sports LLC explains that there is nothing better than building a sport court - small or large - to keep athletic folks or exuberant children happy. But if you are looking for the ideal focus for autumn, Leatherman suggests that you might want to take a look at your fading lawn and consider replacing at least some of it with synthetic grass. Although the investment is higher at the beginning, the savings in upkeep, labor and water costs will pay off the difference in no time. It is ecologically wise, virtually maintenance-free, safe for the youngest of children and looks wonderful all year 'round. "And," adds Leatherman, "it's pet friendly!"

House and Garden
Landscaping should harmonize with the style of your house. Or, if you plan carefully, you can also use your garden to blend your home into more of the look you prefer. Use colors for structures, decor or flowers that either echo the tones of your home's exterior or contrast with it. Also relating to your house is the fencing you use. Fencing can be both practical and decorative. The style should be in harmony with the look of both your house and garden. You can use wood, stone, block walls, wrought iron or the newer, easy-care vinyl products to divide land areas, provide privacy or contain children or pets.

Madlen Gevorkian, from Valencia Vinyl Fence promotes vinyl because there is absolutely no maintenance required over time. "It comes with a lifetime guarantee that is even transferable to a new owner should you sell your house. Not to mention that you will be increasing both the beauty and the value of your property." Vinyl can also be used when building a number of other additions to your outdoor property, like gazebos and shade-covers.

Decor and More
Sometimes it doesn't take a big budget to improve the look of your house or garden. Your home entrance has the most immediate impact of any area. With a little tasteful decor, you can dress up the outside of your home in a way no one visiting can miss. Hortencia Abouaf, at Bella Venezia Home & Decor admits: "I love the autumn wreaths. They spark up a front door and are especially effective if you add the orange and purple silk potted mums around your entry way." If you have a planter bed close to your entry, try adding some live chrysanthemums in more fall colors: deep red, rust, and yellow as well as the oranges and purples. These will lead the eye up to the front door and your welcoming display there.

Carolyn McLintock of The Decor Store has an additional idea. She suggests trying decorative plant stands and/or wrought iron "pockets" that can be filled with colorful leaves, pumpkins or autumn squashes. "You can add interesting plants drizzling out the sides or cascading over the top," she muses. You can change with the seasons by filling them with items that celebrate any holiday or simply compliment your entry way all year 'round. "We also have some really cute scarecrows that will sit or stand so you can pose them however they fit in any given area," Carolyn adds.

Oasis Garden & Patio carries a diverse selection of patio sets to afford comfortable seating in your garden. Owner Amy Boswell also recommends trying out some of the delightful outdoor sofas to enjoy autumn evenings. "Another practical consideration," Boswell adds, "is to invest in patio furniture covers to protect from rain." When you have beautiful furniture, you want to keep it that way. She also suggests freshening up the color in your garden by arranging decorative pots in groups of three and filling them with colorful cool-season annual flowers.

Remember to have fun with your landscaping. Whether you are designing a new environment with swimming pools, spas, outdoor rooms and sport courts or renovating your garden, remember that this is a place for you to nurture yourself and your family. Let your garden help you enjoy this autumn season!

Seasonal Advice for Backyard Do-It-Yourselfers
Yes, it can be tempting to start planting bold new fall colors, but you must attend to the practical stuff first. Clean up refuse in the garden to keep safe from wildfires and avoid rodent problems. As you clear out faded flowers, you might want to save some of the seed heads and tuck the seeds back into the soil to see if winter rains help you raise some free plants for the spring. And while you're out collecting, consider gathering dried leaves, corn stalks, decorative dried stems and seed pods for autumn decorations. They can be dressed up with ribbons, glitter or spray paint or left just the way they are to cheer up your home's interior. Late season ornamental grasses are coming into bloom now. They send up sprays of feathery plumes - inflorescences - on which seeds are set. Cut the stems as low as possible for dried flower arrangements and very short-lived cat toys.

Stop Watering Succulents
Cacti and succulents can take occasional water in late summer heat to keep them from shriveling, but as the winter cools, they need no extra water. If you can cut pieces from a number of small succulents, you can consider making a living wreath for your door by stuffing a frame (available at craft stores) with dried moss like sphagnum. Then you can wire the succulents to the frame with roots (or stems that will form roots) touching the moss. You will want to dunk the whole wreath in a bucket of water around once a week so it dries out in between submersions. The succulents will root into the moss and grow decoratively on your door wreath, making a beautiful conversation piece.

Time to Prune
Even though the weather may still send us occasional warm days, you can start backing off of your watering schedule. Evenings are getting cooler and the plants are aware of the change of season because of the shortened days. As the temperatures cool, sap flows slower so we are entering into the best time of the year to do serious pruning of trees and large shrubs now, as they will "bleed" less.

Out of Dormancy
In this part of the world, there are many plants that actually come out of dormancy for the winter. California natives and some of their Australian brethren slow their growth during hot dry seasons and rev up for the winter rains. When you plant your garden, it is a good idea to combine plants that have different resting and blooming times so you can have green and flowers at different times throughout the year. The active plants will draw attention away from the dreary looking sleepers.

More Planting
The autumn season provides us an opportunity for more planting. We can now start cool season annual plantings and vegetables. Check in at your local nursery and home store to see what cool season plants are arriving in stock. You can also start seeding winter food crops like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and peas. Onion sets can be planted now to crop next summer. And you can continue to seed most root crops like carrot, beet and radish.

Compost what's UsedNow is the time to clear out plant material that is not just taking a nap and you are not going to use for decor, food or whatever. Composting is the best use for these materials. Dig over empty spaces and amend the soil where you are planning on new plants or re-planting this next season. If you are planning for natives or many drought-tolerant plants, little to no amendments are required. These plants are usually adapted to lean soils and will die quickly if they exhaust themselves by growing too lushly with excessive nutrients and water. Don't forget to line new beds with hardware cloth where gophers are likely to be a problem. They adore bulbs, vegetables, roses and fig trees especially.

Mix Soft and Hardscapes
By mixing your softscape (growing materials) with your hardscape (permanent features) and decorating to add intrigue, you can create a garden that will compete for your attention with the inside of your home as the weather mellows in autumn.
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