October in the garden can be resplendent or quite damp. A stalwart to carry your garden through either scenario is the aster. It is hard to think of more reliable late bloomers than the array of native asters we have around the Chesapeake watershed. Even better, they are widely available at garden centers and native plant nurseries. There are asters for shade and sun.
There is one challenge with asters. While asters are growing through summer, the growth habit of the foliage can be rangy. It's totally worth it though to have all of that fresh color in fall. A couple of ideas to deal with the foliage: tuck asters beneath summer blooming shrubs, between other perennials or towards the back of the garden where that foliage won't be so noticeable. I often find I have forgotten where the asters are and then one day, poof! A welcome cloud of tiny flowers appear.
If you are one of those people who embraces fall with displays of mums and pumpkins -- thank you! It adds to our collective festiveness. Instead of mums, which you very rarely, if ever, see pollinators visit, think about using native asters. Once your personal fall fest concludes, pop those perennial asters right in the ground. New plants x2!
You can read more about native asters here. If your fall is too busy to make it to your favorite native plant nursery, these mail order sources carry asters: Direct Natives, Izel Plants, Plant More Natives and Pollen Nation. If you shop for asters at a garden center, make sure to look for the native asters. Some garden centers sell Japanese asters that look a whole lot like our native asters. A tag check and google will set you on the right course.
Most perennials, shrubs and trees still have foliage. With colors beginning to fade, it's a good time to take a step back and look at the whole of your space. Are there gaps? Bare spots? Does an area no longer work because certain plants aren't thriving or have become too robust?
If you are having trouble assessing, it may help to take photos in black and white. Eliminating the color enables you to see the structure of the plants. I read about this a while back and it really works. With winter ahead, think about whether you would like to add an evergreen or shrub with winter interest too.
Once you see what you want to change, you can make a plan. October, as you know, is such a great time to plant new plants or move existing plants. Cooler days and mild nights are ideal conditions for plants to get established. For my part, I'm going to fill these bare spots with asters!
By many accounts, and certainly mine (!), this was one of our more challenging gardening years due to weather patterns., Are there plants that are doing surprisingly well in your garden despite the challenging season? Take note and make sure to add more!
It took three tries to get Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica) to grow. I had read it could be difficult to get established. Typically, we are advised this is a perennial for part shade or part sun and a range of moisture levels. My first two efforts with a couple of quart sized plants and then later some plugs did not really take. The third time was the trick -- I planted five quart sized plants in part shade with average moisture. Those five all established and, in a couple of years, have grown to thick clumps. What I am noticing this October is how strong and upright the foliage is. This is a plus at this time of year and I will endeavor to repeat it.
Leaves, Cut Backs and All That
This is the time of year when we will see lots of reminders about raking leaves and putting the garden to bed. You know better than I we will all do Mother Nature a favor by raking leaves off of lawns and leaving the rest. Same with those perennials - leave em up! The stems are overwintering hotels for good bugs and the seed heads feed the birds!
Most of all, take time to sit, listen and absorb all the fruits of your good efforts! Native gardens are still abuzz with pollinators, birds and small mammals all trying to make the most of the rest of autumn. Let's do the same!