As the weather cools and the days shorten, I find myself making adjustments in the garden to help trees transition into the dormant season. Common tasks include moving trees around the garden so they get more sunlight, removing shade cloth, and pulling old leaves from deciduous trees in the process of shutting down for the season.
I tend to leave deciduous trees alone while they are growing, but once they’ve lost about half of their foliage, I’ll pull all remaining leaves – whether or not the leaves are still healthy (see “Removing old leaves” for details about plucking stewartia foliage).
Stewartia with tired leaves
As fall temperatures are typically mild in the Bay Area, I rarely find that all leaves turn brown at the same time. Clearing away old leaves lets light stimulate interior buds, reduces the opportunity for mildew to spread, and makes it easier to see when the soil has dried out.
After plucking the old leaves
I also clean the surface of the soil and remove fertilizer, when present.
Fall cleanup complete
With the leaves gone, it’s easy to see how much cutback is needed. I usually cut back deciduous trees as the leaves begin to turn, but as this tree lost its leaves on the early side, I’ll do some light pruning and leave the tree alone until early spring when it’s time to repot.
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