Here in the Hudson Valley, many people say this is their favorite month. And with good reason: the glorious colors seem the culmination of the whole season's growth, a last blast before winter sets in.
There are the flaming Maples, of course, but also the buttery yellows of Fox Grapes and Catalpas, the bright scarlet of Sumacs and the deeper reds of Dogwoods and Viburnums. You can find shades of pink, too, in the foliage of Katsuras and Stewartias. Even the lowly weeds color up beautifully when conditions are right, as they must be this year.
Cooler temperatures and more consistent temperatures make October a fantastic month for planting trees, shrubs and hardy perennials. I've always had great success dividing or transplanting Hostas and Peonies this month, and of course it's prime season for planting spring bulbs of all kinds.
One of the questions nursery employees get asked a lot is, "When's the best time to plant?" The correct answer, almost always, is "Now." In the past, when a lot of nursery stock was sold bare-root or balled and burlapped (B&B), there was a much more restrictive window for planting. But now that the horticulture industry has shifted to most plants being grown and sold in containers, planting can be done at just about any point in the growing season. And because roots continue to grow even after leaves drop, landscape professionals plant all the way into November and beyond, weather permitting. (There are a couple of exceptions... warm season grasses, like Panicums, need at least a month of warm soil to establish, and Ferns establish very slowly, so be careful with these two categories... I try to have either of these in the ground by Labor Day weekend at the latest)
Fall planting can help your plants avoid the droughts and stress of summer heat, a pitfall of planting in spring. And you can take advantage of all the end-of-season sales that nurseries do to reduce inventory before winter!
In any event, it's a beautiful time to be outdoors, gardening or not, so savor the warm sun, the brilliant blue sky and the gorgeous colors. This is a special time, and never seems to last quite long enough.
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Welcome to Sempervivum, an opinionated, sometimes informed and completely unqualified journal of gardens, plants and plantings by artist-gardener Robert Clyde Anderson.