Despite frost and short days, my garden produced plenty of flowers in October. I look for plants that will perform in the shoulder seasons — March, April, October and even November. Here are some I love that are blooming still, or that bloomed earlier in October.
My “Knockout” roses were still blooming in late October. This trademarked variety has me completely loyal to them. They start blooming in June, and continue until Halloween or later. Not every bush blooms every day, but some do. Most are not fragrant, though that has its advantage: they don’t attract Japanese beetles or rose chafers.
Seven sons flower tree (Heptacodium micinoides). The small white flowers on this tree are delicate, and slightly fragrant. It’s a fast-growing, small tree that needs annual pruning — it can grow stems up to 7 feet long in one season, though it shouldn’t get taller than 25 feet or so. Hard frost damages the flowers.
Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana). This understory tree has small, curly, yellow blossoms that really aren’t obvious until late October when the yellow foliage falls off. The branches of mine are loaded with blossoms now, and will look good well into November. Not a showy plant, but a welcome treat at this time of year.
Disanthus (Disanthus cercidifolius). This large shrub has spectacular purple foliage, more dramatic than the reds of burning bush (Euonymus alatus). And if you get up close for a look, it has little half-inch red blossoms in October. Quite a worthy shrub, but not well-known. Even though I’m in a cold zone 4, and this shrub is said to be only hardy to Zone 5 (minus 20), I’ve had it for several years.
Autumn crocus (Colchicum speciosum). This is my one bulb plant for October. It is similar to spring crocus, but many times larger. I was given a dozen bulbs 20 years ago, and now I have just one left — the others seem to have disappeared. It displays its foliage in spring which then disappears. In October, large pink (or white or lavender) blossoms appear. Floppy, but wonderful. I shall buy some more next summer.
Fall monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii “Arendsii”). You may know the June-blooming monkshood (Aconitum napellus), but this late bloomer is a treat that blooms in late October. It grows to be 4 to 5 feet tall, and has an intense, blue-purple, hooded flower. Also called wolf’s bane because the sap was allegedly used to poison wolves in Russia by spreading it on meat left out for wolves.
Blooming with my monkshood is a pink-magenta phlox. Unlike the other phlox I have, this one starts late and just keeps on blooming. I wish I knew the cultivar name, as it has little mold or mildew, too — a good cut flower.
Rudbeckia. I have two varieties that bloom well into October. ‘Henry Eiler’ is just finishing up. A 5-foot tall plant with petals with gaps between them give it a distinctive look. And then there is ‘Prairie Sun’ which blooms from late June until now. It has a green eye, instead of a brown one.
Globe flower (Trollius europaeus). The bright yellow flowers are a complete surprise, as it should bloom in early summer. But this year, it is in full, glorious bloom in the last week of October. Go figure.
New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracnesis). This is a tall purple flower that looks a lot like a New England aster. It can reach 5 to 6 feet tall in moist, rich soil, which it likes best. I now grow it in dry soil, as it got too big in moist soil. It bloomed well though mid-October for me.
New England aster (Aster novae-angliae). Another tall fall bloomer, I have pink and purple varieties that often reach 5 to 6 feet tall. Monarch butterflies love to get some nectar from the flowers before heading south.
Canadian burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis). A native plant of the wetlands, this tall flower appears as a dozen thin bottle-brush flowers on each stem, in clusters. I have three or four other species in this genus that bloom earlier in summer.
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale). This flower was named after Helen of Troy, a woman so beautiful that it said she launched 1,000 ships. I have it in various colors: yellow, yellow and rust, orange and brown. It can be 5 feet tall, or as short as 2 feet, depending on where it is grown and the cultivar. It does fine in ordinary garden soil, but thrives best in moist soils. Sneezeweed does not make you sneeze — it was used as snuff in earlier times.
Pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii). This tall pink flower blooms for 6 to 8 weeks with multiple, hooded, pink flowers on tall stems. Bumblebees love this flower, though it is a challenge for them to crawl inside for pollen. It finished blooming in mid-to-late-October.
Fountain grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’). Most of us do not think of grasses as having flowers but they do, of course. This 6- to 8-foot tall grass has wonderful fluffy panicles a foot long or so. They move well in the breeze, and many stay erect through much of the winter.
So, if you think flowers finish blooming in September with the last of your daylilies, think again! Buy some of the plants I mentioned next spring and plant them. October flowers can be spectacular.
Henry is available to speak to your garden club or library. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.