Monday, October 13, 2014

October Calendar, Plus My Mistakes of the Season

The Calendar
Week 1

As of October 1, we have been six weeks without significant rainfall.  You can ignore established trees and shrubs, but give a weekly soaking to any planted this year.  Keep it up until the first hard frost.

You can plant most trees in the fall, except the ones you can’t -  Magnolia, Dogwood and Birches.

Don’t miss the luminous white Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, now gleaming in dark corners.

Japanese Anemome 'Honorine Jobert'

Week 2

Mulch newly planted trees and shrubs with several inches of leaves, but hold off doing the same to perennials until there have been a few good frosts.

Make drawings of all beds, marking changes. Mark the principal deciduous plants before it gets too cold, and before the smaller flowering plants disappear for the season.  Rhodia graph-paper pads are good for this.

Week 3

Start to cut perennials down, but mark their locations on your plan.  Then you may contemplate your spring purchases all winter, but indoors where it’s warm.  

This is the last call to order lilies for November planting.  If you are going to continue with indoor bulbs, order amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus now.

Amaryllis in Winter

Week 4

Tie up roses.  Don’t cut back canes now, but do remove weak shoots and dead wood.

Continue planting bulbs. 

Order enough mulching compost, even if you have to have it delivered.

My Mistakes of the Season

Fall is the best time of year to assess your garden design, and to face up to mistakes and poor decisions.  The weather is warm enough to take notes without having to take your gloves off, and the memories of successes and failures are still fresh.  If a new plant has not performed to your expectations, give it another year or two to take hold.  A poor freshman performance should not be a death sentence.  I, however, find it difficult to follow this advice, wavering between a plant that just needs a little more time and one that never should have been acquired in the first place. 

Phlox 'Bright Eyes'

This year I experimented with phlox, and was wildly unsuccesful.  I ordered from a respectable nursery, believing that if I followed instructions faithfully I would be spared the curse of mildew.  The only varieties to perform even reasonably well were the old-fashioned ‘Bright Eyes’ and the faithful ‘Davidii.’  I am not giving the weakest ones a second chance and dug them out this week,  sparing only a few for another day.

The conventional wisdom is that if you water well and give phlox the best environment possible they will conquer mildew.  But watering well is not the same as watering often.  I am a fan of a deep weekly watering only, but learned late in the season from a minor footnote that phlox are shallow-rooted, explaining the need for frequent watering.

Phlox 'Davidii'

Watering Requirements
At the beginning of the season, make sure your hoses are long enough to reach everything that needs watering.  It’s efficient to keep plants with similar watering needs together, but I ignored this believing I could keep up with the challenge.  This summer, as though the phlox were not enough to worry about, I added Ligularia.

         It is a bold, brilliant yellow, shade-loving plant best suited to a woodland garden.  I wanted to see the effectiveness of color at a distance, but all I saw was drooping foliage, suffering from lack of water. 
Ligularia 'The Rocket'

A lone climbing hygrangea, moved from another garden and planted even further beyond the current hose configuration, is struggling and may not survive on its own. Late in the season I fell in love with a purple-leaved hibiscus and set it in a too-dry corner where it sulked.  Unable to keep up with its watering needs, it too must go.

Bed Preparation:
New beds should be properly and beautifully prepared, but I did not pay enough attention to this in the border shared with my neighbor.  It is not a fatal mistake, but the solution is back-breaking: Lift all plants, do what you should have done in the first place, and re-plant.

Natural Disasters
            Bad decisions do not fare well when disaster occurs.  Infatuated with larger-leaved hostas, I  grouped as many specimen as I could find in an harmonious fashion, only to have them shredded in a hailstorm.  I’ll cut them back when frost comes and next year I’ll match them up with plants less susceptible to hail – ferns, astilble, etc.  Again, a useful time to have a paper plan for notes.

Hosta with Companions

Planting Bulbs
         If you are undertaking a significant bulb-planting this fall, look back to The Sunday Gardener’s archive for October 2011.  You will find more than you wish to know or actually execute.  But do it; there is no more welcome site come Spring.

Daffodils in Spring