Flowering keeps going in October
By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Posted: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 8:01 pm
It is rewarding and exciting to walk your beds and borders about this time of year and count up those things that, even at this late date in the growing season, are yet to go.
The “fall of the year” doesn’t necessarily bring the fall of our gardens, especially if we’ve done our homework and planned and planted accordingly. There are more than a few flowering plants that have yet to reach their zenith.
Well, mums and asters, of course. The market is so glutted with chrysanthemums this time of year the choices are myriad. However, some of the better varieties are seldom to be seen in garden centers and discount stores. The potted cushion mums available far and wide are not the best for permanence.
We have several varieties of so-called Korean mums that are dependably winter hardy even in less than ideal conditions. These usually open later than the common cushions and grow in a looser fashion with a more relaxed appearance. They travel at the root, but modestly, and are easy to control. They will be with you as long as you want them.
Another chrysanthemum species just coming on now is the Nippon daisy, Chrysanthemum nipponicum. A white daisy, for all the world like a Shasta and a late counterpart to it, has substantial three-inch flowers on stiff stems that, unpinched, will rise to two feet or more and maybe splay open. If pinched once in June the height will be kept down and toppling will be minimized.
The leaves of Nippon daisy are rounded and plump, making for a passable plant all summer in the long run-up to flower.
Asters are readily available on the market now, too. Again, some of them will prove to be temporary, and it is old, tough varieties that stand the test of time. Better to beg a piece from some successsful stand that has been performing in the garden of a friend for years. Then you know it is “permanent.” Asters are valuable for the blue to true purple shades largely missing from mums.
Toad lilies — not lilies at all but of the genus Tricyrtis — are uncommon but desirable for their late bloom. The most common is Japanese toad lily, Tricyrtis hirta. We have had this for years and it has proven easy and permanent in both sun and shade.
Stems to two feet or more put on inch-wide spotted purplish flowers in October, very different from most fall blooming things. A single pinch in June will shorten them and cause heavier, if slightly later, blooms.
New hybrids of toad lily are coming on the market with regularity. Some have white blooms that show up better among thick foliage.
Japanese anenomes are late blooming examples of a large genus that mostly consists of spring performers. These, however, don’t crank up until late September and go right through until frost.
The flowers, on stems to three feet or more, are of the freshest appearance, a welcome contrast to the otherwise declining things around them. Japanese anemones, mostly pink or white, are slow to start but become aggressive once established and may prove to be a problem in polite company.
Many salvias save their best for last. Though they may bloom sporadically throughout the summer, some of the perennial varieties reach a crescendo only with cooler nights and shorter days.
Salvia guaranitica is one of them. Reaching four feet by fall, it puts forth occasional flowers beginning in early summer, but goes from strength to strength after that, just now realizing its potential.
The variety Black and Blue has electric dark blue flowers (a color rarely found) that contrast with other shades of autumn.
Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, rarely flowers before October, though nurseries sometimes, somehow, manage to get them into enough bloom to entice customers by late spring. The elongated six-inch spikes of white and purple fuzzy bloom are long lasting through late autumn until freeze-up.
Mexican bush sage is an annual in our climate, while Black and Blue will prove to be perennial most years with good drainage. A loose mulch of pine straw will enhance its chances of living over.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Don’t quit now.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 10.20.09