Black-eyed Susan Flowers in the garden at sunset

Looking across the daily weather reports, there is a definite hint of relief coming from the high temperatures and humidity as October approaches. It’s time to take a break from the usual gardening chores and head out to the garden with pad and pencil rather than gloves and scuffle hoe.

Fall allows time for reflection. What plants thrived in this hot summer paired with a good deal of rainfall? What ones struggled? It’s a good idea to use a journal that will provide a reference of the years as they pass by. My memory certainly isn’t all that reliable. My brief notes include plant name, planting date and a weekly summary of weather conditions. I also place labels from plants that were new varieties at the time into a small box on my desk. The labels have pictures of the plants, and a quick browsing helps to trigger memories of successes and failures. Some of my observations this year include:

• This summer required the relocation of a large container of Madagascar periwinkle to a covered area on the southwest facing front porch. Too much rain and a potting soil that retains moisture (a good thing normally) were causing the drought tolerant species to rapidly decline in the wetter growing conditions. The new site has caused the plants to stretch a bit due to a decrease in the hours of sunlight but they continue to bloom.

• In a large non-movable growing container, a mixture of annual blue salvia (Salvia farinacea) and pink flowering mandevilla proved to be an unsuccessful combination. The potting soil became too wet for the mandevilla while the salvia seemed undaunted. For successful container combinations, pay close attention to plant compatibility regarding soil moisture. Equally important is sun requirement.

• A very welcome surprise has been a left-over cyclamen from last winter thriving through the summer’s heat on the northeast facing back patio under the roof soffit. It was too beautiful to discard this spring as the season warmed up, so I simply moved the container from its sunny winter location to a more protected site. I’ve never kept one through the summer. It has continuously bloomed.

• The deer continue to eat hibiscus, a summer favorite; an attempt to place its container in a more protected location on the deck did protect it from deer but didn’t provide the full sun it loves. Sigh, I may have to give up as I am out of sunny location options after three summers of moving the container.

• Two different pentas, one red and one purple, have ended up with two heights; the red is the taller one by about 8 inches. This wasn’t the effect I was hoping to achieve. Note to self: check series heights on the label before purchasing next spring. Buy the same series (i.e., Butterfly, New Look, Graffiti, Northern Lights) in different colors or series with similar heights.

• Spraying the perennial Black-Eyed Susan (deer love the flowers) with Deer Out consistently after rains have finally allowed the plants to bloom heavily. Maybe I can use this on the hibiscus next year with similar results?

October is also the month to start the winter garden. Starts of collards, broccoli and cauliflower are available at various locations, a much faster method than planting seeds. By mid-October, I start carrots, beets, onions, kale, turnips, radish and lettuce by seed. The plan has been to build a small 10X12 foot vegetable garden with above-ground planting beds surrounded by fencing to keep the deer out. I found the perfect location but have been traveling so much that none of the work has started. It’ll be a rush to get it done and therefore, I may have to face the possibility that it may not be ready until spring planting.

Overgrown perennial plantings can be thinned and divided. Rudbeckia, variegated flax lily, ferns, gingers, canna, liriope and many other spreading plant species do well when divided in the fall. It’s fun to offer gardening friends and neighbors a clump. I’ve never had a gardener turn me down! One bonus from our garden is the sprouting seeds of the native red buckeye, a lovely small tree with red flowers in early spring and interesting palmately compound leaves. I have had several requests for plants, so those need to be dug up, potted and given away this fall. If you have been waiting on planting a new tree or shrub for your garden, now is the time to do it. And it’s time to consider new design ideas. The one constant in my garden is change!

November will be the month to remove spent summer annuals and replace with annuals more suited for our coastal winter gardens. Dianthus, pansies, violas, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, ornamental cabbage and kale, swiss chard “Bright Lights,” mustard “Red Giant,” nemesia, stock, edging lobelia and primrose are all good choices. Of course, don’t forget cyclamen when they are available.

Let’s hope all hurricanes ignore our coast this year. Happy Gardening!