By Steve Smith
Of all the seasons fall is my favorite and October is when it all starts to happen.
There is a crispness in the air, new vibrant colors on the trees, fresh growth on our summer dormant lawns, mums and asters in full bloom, pumpkins and
gourds everywhere, fresh rainfall, colorful berries, and of course pansies and violas. I have started to clean out my summer annuals and veggies to prep the ground for some fall color and hardy veggies like garlic, broccoli and shallots. There is a certain catharsis in pulling out all those overgrown annuals and mildew-ridden squash plants and plunging in a few spring-blooming bulbs and some pansies over the top. It’s a fresh look that will entertain me for the next six months. October is the month to plant your bulbs.
My containers get an overhaul as well. As much as I hate to part company with my 8-feet-tall red bananas, and equally as tall Egyptian papyrus, they just seem out of place on a frosty morning – so they’re headed to the compost pile. Canna lilies will be dug up, hosed off, divided and then stored in 15-gallon nursery pots where they will be covered with damp newsprint and kept in a cool greenhouse where they won’t freeze. Cannas in the ground simply need to be mulched, and they will be fine for the winter. Papyrus and red bananas will never make it through winter, so give them the heave ho.
For the rest of my yard I mostly let it go to sleep naturally: leaving the perennials to set seed for the birds; blowing the leaves off my driveway and into the beds to supply nutrients and insulation; and putting balanced organic fertilizer on the lawn. I mow it an inch higher than I did in summer. AndI I drain the hoses and put away the patio furniture.
As for the garden center, there are also lots of changes that take place in October. For starters, many of the tired summer blooming shrubs and perennials are moved to the back where we hope to clear them out at half price. October is when conifers and broadleaf evergreens take front stage with their coats of many colors. “Carsten’s Winter Gold” mugo pine is already showing its winter gold highlights as is the coveted “Chief Joseph” lodge pole pine. Conifers come in
an array of colors from green to blue, yellow, orange and plum.
The same can be said for several broadleaf evergreens, like Leucothoe and Nandina. These shrubs take on an incredible color change when the nights get cool, changing from boring green to shades of bronze and dazzling red. There are even some perennials, like Bergenia and Wintergreen, that sport a new personality during the dark months of winter. Planting a few of these in containers is a great way to keep the garden interesting.
October also marks the reintroduction of winter heather, rhodies, and camellias, all of which have their buds set for spring and in the case of heather,
are actually blooming with some color that will persist for almost six months.
Pieris “Passion Frost” is another broadleaf evergreen shrub that is covered with buds in October that will finally open to blooms in February and March. Between Camellias, rhodies, and Pieris, the sight of these buds gives me so much hope and anticipation for spring that it makes the end of summer seem somewhat irrelevant.
October ushers in lots of changes for gardeners. Take advantage of the scattered sunny days and embrace the change.