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Central Mississippi Garden Calendar

October

Plant Savers

The first half of October is your last chance to dig tender plants that you want to save from the first killing frost. Transplant them into decorative pots and continue to enjoy them indoors. There is more to saving a tender plant than just digging it up. A topical hibiscus that is 4 foot tall is not going to appreciate you shoving its feet (roots) into a 1-gallon pot. Before you dig, find a pot that is big enough for the root ball. When reusing pots make sure to sanitize them first. Knock out the dry, crusty soil from the pot. Then using a soft bristled brush or sponge and a water hose, begin to clean it up. The final step is to wash the pot with a 10% bleach solution. The bleach will help prevent the spread of disease or fungus from the pot to the transplant.

Annual Flowers

October is the month of cooler weather and signals a transition for annual flower plantings. Many warm season annuals will still be very attractive and you may want to wait until November to replace them with cool season varieties. If this is the case, fill in any bare spots with a splash of new color. Cell-pack transplants of snapdragons, dianthus, petunia, marigold and calendula should be plentiful. Although Chrysanthemums are actually perennial, many people treat them like annuals. You can't beat mums for instant color, if you need to dress up the patio, deck or a table arrangement. Generally, garden people have a hard time throwing away any plant, much less just because it has completed its reproductive cycle (flowering). So, to read more about mums drop down to the perennial flower section, where the plant belongs.

Statistically, the first freeze for Central Mississippi will occur sometime during the third week in October and the first week in November. For frost proof fall color refurbish flowerbeds early. The sooner the new bedding plants become established, the less down time you will have in your garden color.

Some cool season annuals do better if directly seeded in place, such as: poppy, sweet pea, alyssum and larkspur. These annuals perform best in full sun, well-drained soil and moderate moisture. Seeds sown in the fall and early spring will bloom from winter until summer during mild years. Review the September 2000 issue for more seeded winter annual chooses.

Bulbs

Bulb planting time is fast approaching. If ordering from catalogs or the Internet, make sure that the bulbs can be delivered before December. Tulip and hyacinth bulbs need to be refrigerated by late November to meet there chilling requirements. Daffodil, crocus, iris, anemone and ranunculus are dependable selections and can be found at local nurseries. Mass plantings of one particular bulb or color produce the most impressive, car stopping displays. The flowers stand out when placed in a setting of contrasting colors. Yellow daffodils towering over a bed of red pansies, pink hyacinths standing in green ivy or a backdrop of iris for a meadow of thrift. Ground covers such as periwinkle, ajuga, strawberry begonia, alyssum and English ivy make great companion plants for bulbs.

Dig up and save caladium tubers for next year. Lift the entire clump; remove excess soil and place in a warm, dry spot to cure. After the tubers have dried, clean off any dirt clods and papery foliage. Dust them with a fungicide and place in dry sawdust for the winter.

Fruit

An unusual native fruit that ripens in the fall is pawpaw. The small trees have aromatic deciduous 6-inch long aromatic deciduous leaves and grow in patches at the edge of hardwood forests. It flowers in the spring about the same time that the near leaves are developing. Pawpaw fruits are ripe when they are a yellowish brown color. The fruit isn't very big (5 inches long and 2 inches thick with several large hard seeds) and has a banana, custard-like flavor. The sweet, white or yellow pulp can either be cooked or eaten raw.

Lawns

A little care now can reduce problems with weeds, bare spots and cold damage to your lawn next year. Annual bluegrass is the most common cool season weed. For control, broadcast a pre-emergence herbicide before bluegrass seed germinates. Southern grasses may not go dormant until January. Layers of fallen leaves can block sunlight from the turf causing large bare spots next spring. Rake up or use a mulching mower to remove leaves. If you plan on putting out a lawn winterize, then choose one with very little nitrogen, such as a 0-20-20 fertilizer.

Perennial Flowers

Divide and replant crowded perennials this month. Transplant shock is less severe and plants recover quicker if dug in the fall. Basically, re-establishment is easier because the soil is still warm. Yarrow, daisies and daylilies will begin to takeover a flowerbed if left untouched for more than three years. Prepare the new flowerbed a few weeks before the actual planting takes place. A good soil amendment recipe for a 100 square foot area in Central Mississippi is: (1) Till in 3-4 inches of organic matter (compost, humus, peat moss), (2) Add 2-4 pounds of a complete fertilizer, such as 5-10-10. A ¼ to ½ of the nitrogen should be in a slow release form, (3) Add ¼ cup of dolomitic lime and 1/8 cup of super-phosphate to every 5-gallon bucket of backfill soil. Till to a depth of 12-18 inches and then level. Top with a layer of coarse mulch. The most productive flowerbeds will typically be located in well-drained soil that is exposed to full sun or light shade.
Football weather and chrysanthemums go together like being an American and eating apple pie. The ‘mum’ catches every gardener’s eye during the fall. This plant has so many good qualities such as, easy to grow and propagate; bugs do not care for the taste; it blooms twice annually; it’s evergreen and not invasive. The flower colors range from red, purple, white, yellow, pink and lavender to bronze. Every color except blue can be found. Many different flower forms are available. 'Pompons' produce rounded, tight flowers usually 2 inches across and 'Buttons' are just miniature pompons, 1 inch or smaller. 'Rayonettes' have a spidery, open look with long slender petals. The large football game mum is known as the 'Commercial.' Some other forms are 'Spoons,' 'Cushions,' 'Singles,' and 'Decorative.'

Trees and Shrubs

Fall is the absolute, research-based, best time to set out permanent plants. Spring is the second best time to plant. Why, because Central Mississippi typically has mild climate during the fall and winter. This means that root growth continues until the soil temperature dips below 40°F, thus giving the plant from October until Feb to establish a strong hold. When planting in the spring, there is generally very little time for the plants to become established before summer stresses arrive.

The bold fall leaf colors of trees and shrubs will generally last for a month or longer. Spring flowers don’t even last that long, so the smart home landscaper should find a place to tuck in a few fall performers. The leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs change color as a result of a breakdown the food making cells called chlorophyll. As the green chlorophyll is broken up and food is sent to the trunk of the tree for storage, the other pigments begin to show up. Ginkgo, Eastern redbud, beautyberry and forsythia leaves will turn bright yellow. If red is your favorite fall color, then plant red and Japanese maples, black gum, dogwood, hydrangea or blueberries. Other plants with great fall color are witch hazel, sassafras, crepe myrtle, sourwood and bald cypress. It makes perfect sense when selecting trees and shrubs to emphasize fall color.

Vegetables

Some cool seasoned vegetables are not easy to transplant. Plant beet, radish, lettuce, spinach, mustard and turnip seed directly in the garden soil. Set out young onion and cabbage plants. Harvest green tomatoes before frost and bring them indoors to ripen. Gourds and pumpkins are mature when the skin gets hard.

Donna Hamlin Beliech is the writer of Central Mississippi Garden Calendar monthly. She's a self described "dirty-handed gardener" and avid seed saver. She lives in Brandon and is the Area Extension Horticulturist for six counties in Central Mississippi.