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Diggin' It

October gardening

By Donna Williamson / October 20, 2009

Dahlia tubers need to be dug and stored for winter.

Photos courtesy of Donna Williamson.

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I get more sentimental in the fall. The heirloom tomatoes that have not succumbed to disease look chubby with their abundant green leaves and happy yellow flowers waiting for a bee.

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The dahlias are gorgeous, and the salvias fat and sassy.

I scan the weather report for threats of frost.

Six weeks of drought after a rainy spring and early summer brought early color to the native dogwoods. The poison ivy and sassafras are usually the first to show fall color, and they had to race to catch up.

The participants in my classes chuckle when I describe a "favorite plant. There are dozens of favorite plants in my world.

Among my top favorites are the Buck roses. They perform well in the humid mid-Atlantic without toxic sprays. Dr. Griffith Buck bred these tough and beautiful shrub roses, which I’ve been collecting for years.

After a hot summer, roses return to flowering beautifully in the early fall, and occasionally I’ve been able to cut them for Thanksgiving bouquets.

Dr. Buck’s first success, Apple Jack, is a rambler with foliage so heavily scented with apple that you can identify it by that aspect alone when pruning and shaping rosebushes in the spring.

Hawkeye Belle is also exquisite, but I haven’t found one of the Buck roses that I don’t love.

This year I added Allamand-Ho and Freckles. Not available at many local nurseries, the Buck roses are widely available via mail order. Search engines will serve you well here.

As you might expect, some mail-order sources are better than others. Start with a small order to check them out before investing too heavily in one source.

Soon I will lament the passing of the tomatoes. I love the smell of tomato foliage so much that a friend once brought me a vial of tomato foliage essential oil. It gets me through the winter.

October brings garden chores: Goodbye to basil, coleus, and salvia. Next I must bring in the cymbidium orchids that have been sitting under a dogwood all summer. I will remove the foliage and, sadly, remaining flowers of the dahlias and clean up the tubers for next summer. The Korean mums finally bloom around the middle of the month, and the roses will shine.

I hate to see October go.

Donna Williamson is a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.”  She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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