October Chores of the Low-Maintenance Gardener

by Susan Harris
Here’s what THIS low-maintenance gardener is doing this month in the garden, starting with grabbing some cheap-and-easy fall color in the form of mums.   From perusing photos  of them all over the Internet, it seems they’re awesomely diverse, and photogenic, too.

Tweaking groundcovers and perennials
Now that it’s cooler, I’m frantically moving and dividing perennials and groundcovers in all my borders.  Now’s the perfect time to do all that because they’ll have months to settle in and establish good root systems before it gets hot in late spring.   This year I have a lot more groundcover-moving than normal, though, since my experiments in alternatives to traditional lawn have yielded a few failures.  For example, I learned that clover attracts deer into my garden, and left unmowed, is too tall to combine nicely with short creepers.

Another lesson learned?  That moving groundcovers around on a hillside, leaving any bare soil at all, makes for quite the mudslide when a big rain comes along.  That’s what happened a few days ago when 6″ fell in just a couple of hours, and many bucketsful of topsoil slid down the hillside into the woods.   And this was just two days before visitors arrived in throngs, part of a local garden tour.  So what’s a gardener to do?  Get as much repair work done as I could, then make excuses like crazy.

Making sure shrubs and trees get enough water
Finally, we got a big drenching last week (too much of one, so of course we gardeners complain) but I’ll still be watering shrubs and trees until our first hard frost if we don’t have regular rain.   Evergreens are particularly vulnerable to desiccation and winterburn if they aren’t well hydrated in the fall.

Some clean-up, but not too much
With most perennials, I leave the dead flowers standing until late winter or early spring because they look pretty cool, and often feed wildlife.  Purple coneflowers, for instance, attract whole flocks of gold finches.  Some perennials and especially annuals I let stand well into fall so they’ll self-seed and bloom again next year – freebies!  I DO clean up pretty carefully around roses, phlox and monarda – the only plants I grow that might come down with a fungal disease – to reduce the chances of that happening.

Planting bulbs
By October 15 I hope to have all my bulbs in the ground (daffodils, grape hyacinth, and Siberian squill), though if I were planting tulips I’d probably put them off until November.  I bought a bunch at the garden center, then succumbed to the temptation to grab a few more bags at a local street festival today.   I find them awfully hard to resist.

Taking cuttings of tender plants?
Some gardeners take cuttings of coleus and other tender favorites, then nurse them along indoors over the winter, but not me!  Sure, I love coleus, but not enough to do all that.  Besides, they’re cheap and easily replaced the next spring – and that way I can try new varieties every year.

Buying sale items
Finally, as gardening chores wind down I’ll have more time to hunt for plants at bargain prices.  I’m on the prowl and armed with plastic!

Photo credits clockwise from upper left.  Cheng l, Gaspi, Jfh686, and SigusrO.

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