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Talkin' Dirt - October 2016

by Mary Beth Riggs

I'm a fair-weather gardener. I prefer to sit in front of a warm fire enjoying my winter garden through the windows, rather than donning full rain gear and Wellies to deal with soggy perennials. That means getting ahead during these pleasant early-autumn days. As the leaves change into their brilliant fall colors, and you awaken to a distinct chill in the air, you realize that winter is just around the corner. It's time to put the garden tools away for the year, settle back, relax, and wait for spring to arrive......


WRONG!!!!!  We still have many tasks to accomplish... even after the first frosts.

Time to plant spring bulbs. Start with the fun stuff! We all prefer planting to weeding, and this is the month to get spring bulbs into the ground.

To many of us, daffodils are the symbol of spring. They look best when massed in the garden, so try planting them in drifts along a pathway — or tuck them in between late-flowering perennials, such as black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp). As the bulb foliage dies down, it will be hidden by these emerging perennials.

You can achieve a similar effect in a shade garden with bluebells planted near hostas. Plant fall container gardens. Refresh your container gardens with a selection of winter-hardy evergreen shrubs, perennials and seasonal color spots.

Small conifers, bright spurge (Euphorbia spp) and evergreen sedums are easy candidates for containers — especially when dressed up with a few cheerful pansies.

Don't forget to add bulbs to these containers for an additional layer of interest next spring. Dwarf daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses are just a few of the possibilities.

'Princess Irene' tulips are stunning with 'Peach Flambe' coral bells (Heuchera).

Focus on exciting foliage to make shade containers equally colorful. Brightly variegated Aucuba, coral bells (Heuchera), evergreen ferns such as the orange-tipped autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosa) and variegated grasses beautifully round out shady container gardens.

Pink Frost' hellebore is a winter superstar, blooming for several months with flowers in every shade of pink — all at the same time! You can also include snowdrop bulbs in partially shaded pots.

Generally tidy up. Soggy hostas are not the most attractive design statement. Cut them down together with other tired perennials and grasses, but leave a few seed heads from coneflowers (Echinacea) and grasses as winter food for the birds.

Divide and multiply! October is a good time to divide many perennials, such as hostas and false spirea (Astilbe). A swift slice with a sharp spade does the trick for most plants.

Play in the leaves. Consider leaves nature's gift to the garden. All you need to do is get them to the right place. Those on your lawn can be shredded with the lawnmower, then either added to your compost bin or put straight back onto the garden as a mulch. Do not cover crowns of perennials, however, as they could rot.

Enjoy the season. Crisp air, sunny days, the many fragrances of the season and the ever changing, colorful display of autumn leaves is upon us. Enjoy these days and the opportunity to be outside.

M.B.