October: The Transition Month

Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’ in bloom. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

I love the month of October in the garden as this is the time when the fall garden suddenly arrives. While September is about the fatigue of the late summer garden, the fall plants take their rightful place in October. The weather is lovely, the humidity is down, and the sun, so blistering in July and August, has become a soothing friend.

I don’t have many asters – but the few I have I enjoy. A nameless aster I managed to acquire somewhere is now in full bloom. I closely observe it as (1) I had no idea I had it, proving how nondescript the plant is when not in flower, and (2) I have no idea how long the flowers will last.

I enjoy Ampelaster carolinianus, our native climbing aster, as it remains nice and bushy on its supporting structure throughout the summer before coming into its fall bloom period. Some years I have cut it back in the early spring, whereas other years, I’ve left it alone – I have yet to determine which method I prefer.

Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki” is a Japanese native that is not aggressive, provided you give it the space it requires (see Plant Delights description); once it’s reached its peak, it settles down in peace. Just as you cannot prevent that young basketball player from reaching his full height, you cannot stop ‘Ezo Murasaki’ from stretching to its desired width as it simply mows down any plant in its path.

Is ’Ezo Murasaki’ worth it? I say, “Absolutely,” as it’s attractive even when not in bloom and the deer leave it alone. It has managed to grow under the fence, along the width of the road where the deer dwell seemingly twenty-four hours a day – with nary a nibble.

The Fatsia japonica, along with their close relative, Fatshedera lizei, a union between fatsia and English ivy, are now full in bloom, but I must confess that the flowers are a bit…weird. While I belong to the gardening school of thought that a plant full of flowers is a happy plant (please note: This is not a scientific observation), the blooms, homely as they are, manage to make me laugh. The flowers are sterile so you need not worry about seedlings throughout the garden. And recognize that F. lizei did not inherit the invasive tendencies of one of its parents, English ivy, Hedera helix.

Fatshedera lizei in bloom. Photo by Kit Flynn.

The dahlias and roses relish the cool October nights. The roses are not nearly as profuse as they are in the spring because the sun is lower in the sky with many of the neighboring trees blocking it out in some spaces. For some reason, my ‘Spice’ rose bush is producing light pink blooms whereas in the spring and summer its flowers are white.

The Gallery series of dahlias, available at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs are my kind of dahlias because they do not require staking while remaining relatively tidy. Plant them in the spring and enjoy them as they bloom during the summer, albeit more profusely in the fall right up to the first frost. I let the tubers remain in the soil, covering them with mulch, so they can return year after year.

The result of a union between Amaryllis belladonna and a crinum, the amarcrinums have baffled me this year as they have set forth flowers fully a month after their usual pattern. Previously, they would greet me at the tail end of August, but now they are definitely telling me that they prefer to bloom in October.

The lesson here is: One should never underestimate the determination of a bulb.

I used to treasure the spring blooming camellias, C. japonica, over the smaller blossomed C. sasanqua but the longer I garden, the more I esteem the latter. Their smaller flowers are so profuse, accompanied by the cooler temperatures they promise will be arriving. Camellias play an important role in forming one of the backstops to my garden’s winter skeleton. Even when they aren’t in bloom, they remain imposing evergreen, glossy ornaments in the garden.

One of the real stars this month have been my salvias. I have a love-hate relationship with salvias. Years ago, Lauri Nelson at Niche Gardens mentioned how tantalizing they were. As I was in the midst of my large-leaf mania, I merely shrugged my shoulders, wondering how such a small-leafed plant could be enticing. It was ‘Hot Lips’ that cause me to reevaluate my estimation of salvias.

‘Hot Lips’ with its two-toned coloring, made me laugh. Alas it did not remain in my garden as cold winter temperatures dissuaded it from returning – but it did open my eyes to the charms of this genus and to experiment with other cultivars where I experienced better luck. I like salvia’s typical irregular shape along with its long bloom time. An additional asset is this: The deer tend to leave it alone. In the fall, the shrubs are covered with flowers, delighting me.

After years of gardening, the garden still manages to mystify me on occasion. Along with the rose, ‘Spice’, changing colors on me, I now have a daylily about to bloom – well out of season. At a time when all self-respecting daylilies are concentrating upon the approaching winter, this daylily has three buds about to open, proving that no matter how hard one tries, the garden still contains mysteries.

A daylily about to bloom. Photo by Kit Flynn.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at howyourgardengrows@icloud.com.
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