October is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities. In anticipation of frost, I threw away the eggplants (they don’t fruit anymore) and the remaining cucumber plants, but left the peppers and Swiss chard in the ground.
My zinnias and Japanese anemones are still blooming, the yellow mums are happy with the purple asters (a great color combination), and (finally!) the roselle is blooming (see my September 13 post).
Plants are starting to change color, my favorite hydrangea, oak leaf (Hydrangea quercifolia), has a few red leaves. The panicles of tan and bone flowers are fragile dry but still very pretty (makes great cut flowers for vases that cannot hold water). However, my Annabelles (Hydrangea arborescens) have turned on me; their round flower heads are so black I cut them off and threw them away. The stems will get it in March next year to keep their shape.
Fall is a great time to get rid of the plants that are just getting out of hand. A few years ago I would have praised balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) as a great kid plant. Just before the petals open, the purple flowers inflate and my kids would pop them like bubble wrap. A perennial, balloon flower emerges every year and grows to about 2-3 feet tall with arching stems. In the fall, the leaves turn gold and the large seed pods disperse across the garden. Now, years later, I guess my garden has reached the point of significant mass of seeds, I can see small balloon flower plants all across the front garden, taking up space and creating havoc. I ruthlessly cut the original plants back to prevent any more seeding and pulled out all the small, baby plants I could find. If you see a plant getting too aggressive, don’t be afraid to cut it back or pull it out.
Fall is also a great time for bean stew and I throw whatever greens I have into the crockpot. This time, I added Swiss chard (leaving a few leaves on the plants so the plants can still photosynthesis and grow) plus dried rosemary and thyme. For another dinner, I harvested the spinach, a cool weather green, and the red peppers to cook with chicken in a skillet.
Fall also is the time to lift and divide perennials. The previous owner had planted purple flowering, bearded irises and when we first moved here, I had divided them to the point that I had enough to fill the two front beds. Every April, a mass of purple would color the house for a few weeks but then for the rest of the summer, the green leaves would just sit there. Sure, they provided a green background for the front garden but now that I want more space for edibles, I decided to re-design the two beds. I cut the iris foliage back to 6 inches, pulled the rhizomes out, cut off the old & diseased parts, and gave the rhizomes to staff at the kids’ school, friends, and coworkers. I re-planted a few irises and I will lift and divide the yarrow (Achillea), red hot poker (Kniphofia), and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) from other beds to add color. In the spring, I will plant herbs and vegetables. Because the beds look a little empty now, the kids and I went to Grist Mill Park in Alexandria, Virginia, to fill bags with wood mulch to cover the beds. In Fairfax County, you can help yourself to free wood mulch year round at certain parks. Later, as the county picks up the autumn leaves, you can get free leaf mulch, which is good for increasing organic matter. Since we don’t have a truck, we double bagged the Fiskars Kangaroo garden bag with 45 gallon plastic bags (get them at the hardware store). Wood mulch is heavy, we could only fill the bags half full but the leaf mulch should be much lighter, which we will get in November. November is a busy time in the garden; the cool weather and moist soil make it possible to enjoy a multitude of gardening activities . . .