October Gardening Tips
Late Summer Garden Makeover
Vibrant Fall Color
A garden is never finished for the gardener. It may be a beautiful day in spring, but a true gardener is thinking what tulips or daffodils they will plant in September as they enjoy the spectacular show of April and May. So it is in the heat of summer and you maybe tired of the humidity and weeds but the season will change and so can your plans for the next season. If spring is soft pastels and summer is vibrant colors, then autumn is a rich brocade of browns, reds, blues and golds. If your late summer garden suffers from the blahs, here are some ideas of what you might do.
Pruning is important
First, be sure to cut back perennials that have flowered. Don't just deadhead, but cut the plant stems back by a third or a half. This group could include delphiniums, salvias, campanulas, hollyhocks and monarda. If annuals are looking a bit haggard, trim them back, especially those in containers. Petunias, verbena, sweet potato vines, coleus and impatiens respond well. A second flush of bloom or foliage will erupt as the weather cools off if you give the plants a good soaking if nature does do this for you. Hostas and pulmonaria can be trimmed of ratty looking leaves during the summer and will reward you with fresh foliage if watered well. I try to do this just before a trip or busy week so I don't have to watch while recovery takes place. If a plant looks half-dead, pruning and losing it, is no loss.
Containers of Mums
Secondly, I get excited by the first containers of mums and asters that show up in front of the grocery store, but my enthusiasm is short lived when their blooms are gone two weeks. Granted if I cared to their needs of water and deadheading, they would last longer but it really is irritating to have such a short show since most are not hardy. Instead of instant color, choose some of the old-fashioned hardy chrysanthemums and asters. Some of the dependable standbys are 'Clara Curtis', 'Mary Stoecker', 'Sheffield' and those wonderful hardy mums from the breeding work of the U. of Minnesota, like Grape Glow. They are available in cushion, uprights, quill and decorative forms. Check the U. of Minnesota Extension Service website for well-tested varieties. You get the wonderful lacey foliage from early spring, very few insect or disease problems and plenty of hardy divisions to expand your display. I love to plant mums or their divisions in front of my daffodil and spring bulb plantings so the mum foliage expands to hide the ripening bulb foliage. I pinch mums and asters back the first of June and July and again in late July if they are not showing buds. If you crave large blooms, the side buds can be pinched off to encourage a larger terminal blossoms but those stems may need to be staked.
Late flowering perennials
Finally, search the nurseries for late-flowering perennials, like Oriental lilies, campanulas, coneflowers, and the three "H" names: helianthus, heleniums, and heliopsis. These native sunflowers are long-lived and long blooming. There are the large sedums like the old standby 'Autumn Joy' or the maroon colored foliages like 'Matrone'. Check out the reblooming or late blooming varieties of daylilies (hemerocallis) and iris. When my clump of iris 'Immortality' blooms in the fall, it is just as exciting as the first blooms of spring. Some of the shorter asters (Michaelmas daisies) are favored in the border and the tall ones do well in the back of the border. 'Alma Potschke' is a bright 2'-3' vigorous pink (share with friends if too vigorous) but aster 'Professor Kippenburg' is a shorter bright blue or try 'White Cushion' for a hardy white aster.
Pots of Mums
If none of this seems appropriate for your garden, then when you pick up the gorgeous pots of chrysanthemums and asters this autumn, at least pick plants that are not in full bloom but in bud, to extend the time of anticipation and enjoyment. To survive over winter, even hardy plants need a time to root and prepare for winter, so don't be surprised if your shallow rooted plants have a short life in your garden unless planted in a protected place or wintered over in a cold frame or garage. -Judy Ziemba, State Horticulture Chairman
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