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Southern Gardening - Potpourri for October

And who does not love the fall of the year especially children thinking about and getting ready for Halloween. I can remember hay rides, high school football games, and going to outdoor movies theaters with a car load of friends. Kids today probably would not know what I am referring to. However it was great entertainment, and most times the parents were involved. I am just reminiscing of times gone by.

The month of October can be counted on for bright sunlit and clear blue skies in which the humidity is greatly diminished. Now is the right time to restart geraniums that were cut back in July and set aside with a good dose of fertilizer. It is funny how some years I forget to do this simple task and let them get leggy. However, it is not too late. These plants love cool nights and will even take some very cold temps. There is nothing prettier that seeing a mass of potted geraniums blooming their heads off around Thanksgiving. This is also a good time to gather seed from zinnias, cosmos, for sowing in later winter. And talking about seeding, this is a good time to throw out the old fashioned poppy seeds, larkspur toward the end of the month. Mark a date on your calendar for this task, as the time can easily get away from you.

See below for flowers which have become stars in my garden for longevity of bloom, low maintenance in the beds, and purchase availability.

1. Longevity of bloom:

These would be the old fashioned canna lilies and the newer dwarf varieties. For the dwarf cannas, I have both the yellow and a shrimp color which have multiplied abundantly over the past 3 years and are disease free. These come back reliably, do not need to be mulched in winter, and make great cut flowers in an arrangement that needs some drama. The regular tall red leafed cannas with both red and orange blooms are easy to grow and also make a dramatic statement in the beds. I have seen these tall cannas used almost as a hedge, but of course this hedge would disappear in the dead of winter. The pests on cannas are mostly white flies, which can be controlled by spraying with a winter dormant after the first hard freeze.

Perennials would include: Phlox, Shasta daisy, lantana, coreopsis, daffodils, elephant ears, lycoris or spider lilies, iris, Mexican petunia, canna as stated above, ginger lilies, geraniums, hosta, chrysanthemums, roses such as knock-out varieties, tropicals, salvias, daylilies, golden rod, but these must be protected from the cold of winter.

Annuals which have a long bloom period include begonias, which do come back after winter freeze, but not reliably; ageratum, dianthus ( a perennial which we treat mostly as an annual in the south), , zinnias, cosmos, larkspur impatiens.

2. Low maintenance

Many of the above mentioned flowers are low maintenance also. One of the features about these flowering plants is that they do not need dead heading. In other words, they drop their spent flowers with out the gardener shearing off these dead heads, one by one. Although I love marigolds, the one of the drawback is that about one time per week, one must clip, clip, clip. The Dragon Wing begonias must be cut back by at least a third sometime in July so they do not get top heavy and flop over.

3. Purchase availability

In my wanderings of garden center, nurseries, plant stands on the side of the road, and in farmers' markets across Alabama, all of the above are sold. And with the full range of colors, your garden can be a colorful or muted as desired.


Talk about a carefree landscape plant, Fountain Grass gets an A in all departments. It is a perennial, easy to grow and requires sun or light shade. Fountain Grass is a member of the Pennisetum family but not to be confused with the flowering plant, of the Penstemom family. We use these grasses in the landscape or in the flower beds for texture or for a filler. The flowers on this grass are prized for a fuzzy foxtail quality that is usually pink. Plants do well in pots and also in the ground. In the fall, the leaves turn to russet and taupe which adds to the other array of fall color. The bloom period is from summer and through out the fall. The flower heads do reseed, and can be invasive if not controlled. But these grasses are so beautiful and dramatic, it is worth the trouble.



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