Leaf peepers alert: Fall is finally here

Lynne Phillips, manager at Natural Art Garden Center, waters this group of colorful autumn mums at the Toms Brook nursery. Mums and pansies are among the most popular plants purchased in the fall, which begins today. Rich Cooley/Daily

Today marks the first day of fall and the beginning of the season leaf peepers have been anticipating — the colorful changing of the leaves.

They won’t have too long to wait, acccording to Patressa Kearns, headquarters information ranger at the Shenandoah National Park.

“There is already some color on the mountain,” Kearns said. “Gorgeous red dogwoods “  have been seen at the bottom of the mountain by park staff.

The general prediction provided by Kearns is that sometime in the first half of October is when leaf peepers can expect the best fall color in the mountains. However, the degree of color depends on rainfall earlier in the season.

Kearns said that summer was progressing toward a beautiful autumn until about a month ago, when the rain became less frequent. She said the lack of rain could have an impact on the leaves by creating more muted colors.

Those who want to surround themselves with fall colors at home may want to check out a local plant nursery, where advice on plant upkeep is available from professionals.

Lynne Phillips, manager at the Natural Art & Garden Center in Toms Brook, said that mums and pansies are the most commonly purchased fall plants for their seasonal colors.

“Fall is the best time to plant,” Phillips said. “You can plant them in the ground or in containers.”

But watering is crucial to a successful garden, and Phillips warned against letting plants dry out. She recommended ignoring the amount of rainfall and checking plants instead, because each site is unique and will hold water differently.

To check for moisture in the soil, she said, “Stick your finger in the ground and check if it’s wet or dry.”

“Pansies will survive some of our cold weather and they have a tendency to come back in the spring too,” she added.

Seeding is also great to do in the fall, especially right after a rainfall. But don’t wait too long, because pollinators like butterflies and bees are getting ready to put stores up for winter or getting ready to fly south.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com