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Frostless Fall: GBBD, October 2021

October 16, 2021

Hamamelis 2021In my Maine garden, October has been weirdly warm, with daytime high temperatures 10-20 degrees (Fahrenheit) above normal and with no overnight lows even close to freezing and, therefore, no frost. Plants are not fooled by these summery temperatures; the shorter hours of daylight tell them that it is time to stop putting on new growth and go into dormancy. The leaves of deciduous trees are losing their chlorophyll and dropping to the ground. Whatever the temperature, this is a sure sign of autumn, as are the fringy yellow flowers of our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) peeking out between leaves of a similar color.

But the lack of frost has made it possible for flowers on many plants to continue to bloom. Shrubs of Spiraea bumalda x ‘Neon Flash,’ which began blooming in late June in the entrance garden and on the front slope just below the retaining wall, are still showing off more than a few hot pink flowers against their blue-green foliage.

October spirea entrance garden October spirea front slope

iron butterfly last flowersFurther down the front slope, Vernonia lettermanii (narrow-leaved ironweed) ‘Iron Butterfly,’ which usually struggles to open any of its buds before the first frost, has almost finished blooming. Although I stopped deadheading purple poppy mallows (Callirhoe involucrata) and varieties of coreopsis several weeks ago, they still have buds flowering.

October poppy mallow October coreopsis Sunkist
At the top of the slope, lavender (Lavandula augustifolia ‘Hidcote’) is enjoying a second flush of blooms. The flowers of Sedum ‘Neon’ have turned a deep burgundy as they begin to turn to seedheads, and the flowers of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’ have also deepened their color. October lavender
October sedum neon October Pinky Winky

In the front border, long-blooming stalwarts Tradescantia virginiana ‘Osprey’ and Geranium x oxonianum continue to flower.

October osprey October oxonianum

Much fuller and more brilliant displays can be found on perennials that normally flower in fall. These include the tall Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ and smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird.’ The latter grows in a protected spot by the foundation of the house, where it often escapes the first frosts and can sometimes continue flowering into November.

October herbstsonne October Bluebird 2021

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a monthly celebration of flowers hosted by Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her website to see October blooms from gardens in a variety of climates.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. joyce m boos permalink
    October 16, 2021 5:23 pm

    Jean, your gardens are amazing!!

  2. October 16, 2021 6:23 pm

    I love the intense color of the purple poppy mallow. Is this the first year you’ve seen temperatures running that far on the warm side?

    • November 4, 2021 11:25 am

      Kris, I have also been very happy with the poppy mallows, which like my dry, sandy soil and kept flowering for months, even when the resident woodchuck kept eating their foliage. We had a similarly warm fall in 2017, and I hadn’t turned my heat on yet when a big rain and wind storm at the end of October ushered in colder weather and left me without electricity for a week. A similar thing happened this year, but the storm didn’t bring such high winds and I didn’t lose power (and I turned the heat on in mid-October, as soon as temperatures in the house got down to 60F).

  3. Harriet Robinson permalink
    October 16, 2021 6:54 pm

    Aster “Bluebird” is the best! I love it because its foliage stays nice all the way to the bottom and it is a reliable bloomer. It doesn’t mind frost. A couple of years ago it kept going after a surprise snowstorm in the middle of October.

  4. Pat Leuchtman permalink
    October 18, 2021 9:26 am

    What an amazing autumn you are having. I am down here is Massachusetts, but my asters are almost entirely gone.

  5. October 31, 2021 12:54 pm

    Hell oJean, your definition of “warm” is somewhat lower than ours! I understand what you mean though, it’s practically November and the Cannas are just on the verge of flowering again. The shorter daylight hours actually makes some plants accelerate their flowering as much as they can to try and set seed because they know time is running out (sprinting to the finish).

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