Autumn glory begins to glow in September. I’m thinking about the ACDs of the autumnal garden – asters, chrysanthemums and dahlias. There is a lot of bloom left in the garden year. The wonderful thing about asters, chrysanthemums and dahlias is that they come in so many sizes, forms and colors. One hardly knows where to begin.
Autumn glory comes in many sizes. I have three asters in my garden. There is a tall New York (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii) aster at the back of the South Border. It is now a large clump, over five feet tall, with sprays of tiny white flowers held high on wiry slim stems with narrow smooth leaves. If I ever had the name of this plant it is long gone. Bees and other pollinators love it. It began blooming a week or so ago, and will continue through September and beyond.
‘Alma Potschke’ is a New England aster (S.novae-angliae). It has more substantial foliage and grows between three and four feet. The rosy red flowers have bright yellow centers. It likes rich soils, but is water tolerant and would be happy in a rain garden. This is a delightfully cheerful and showy addition to the autumnal garden.
My Woods Blue aster (S.cordifolium) grows low and spreads well making it a great ground cover. As its name indicates it is a shade of blue, but there are also purple and pink low growing asters. It will be blooming soon.
All asters like a lot of sun and a rich soil. They will increase! They will also attract bees and butterflies. I rarely think to do it, but in the spring, before the end of June, you can pinch back the plant guaranteeing even more flowers. They are very hardy.
Chrysanthemums are a major aspect of autumn glory. Mums are another large family with varied sizes and forms. At this time of the year you can find pots of nicely formed mum clumps at supermarkets as well as garden centers. You can pop these in the ground, keep them watered, and you will have color through the autumn.
If you want more than color you can turn to catalogs like King’s Mums and Bluestone Perennials. Both of these outfits provide images of the full range of color and forms. They are both an eye opening and inspiring resource, but you have to begin early in the growing season.
For a while in Heath I grew spoon and quilled chrysanthemums. Each petal of the spoon mum opened up into a spoon shape. Quilled petals are a more complete tube. There are more and more spoon mum forms. One of the most popular seems to be Matchsticks which has tubular yellow petals that open to a fiery red spoon at the end. Very dramatic. My own spoon mums did not provide drama, but they did provide enjoyable variety.
There are many chrysanthemum forms that are familiar from the airy spider mums, little pom pom mums and great big mums to wear as a corsage at college football games. I grow a mum that I am very fond of even though it looks like a daisy, and carries the nickname Sheffield daisy. It does indeed look like a daisy with pink petals and a golden center. The foliage is definitely mum foliage. This is a languid plant, lounging gracefully in its bed. While it increases amazingly every year it blooms late and keeps going until it is shut down by a heavy frost. If you live locally you’ll be able to see it among the Energy Park flower beds.
Chrysanthemums also offer special gardens an opportunity to show off. I am a regular attendee at the Smith College Chrysanthemum Show. This year the Show opens on November 3 and continues through November 18. On display will be many chrysanthemum forms, as well as arrangements like the traditional chrysanthemum cascade. Hybrids created by the students will also be on display; you will have an opportunity to vote on your favorite.
Chrysanthemums are not quite as dependably hardy in our area as asters, but they should do well most of the time.
Like chrysanthemums, dahlias come in many forms from large dinner plate dahlias to tiny pom poms. A six foot tall dahlia loaded with big red blossoms knows all about autumn glory. A walk across the Bridge of Flowers at this time of the year will show a large range of the dahlia family.
Unlike asters and mums, they grow from tubers that need to be dug up in the fall and stored in a cool dry spot until spring. If you have a suitable basement you will be able to store four or five new tubers, for the one you planted in the spring. Tubers can be planted early in the spring and get a head start on growing roots and foliage so that there is something substantial to plant when the weather is warm enough.
Tubers are available in the spring, but to get a sense of the range, browsing through the Swan Island or American Meadows catalogs will be a pleasant pastime. In our region it can help to start the dahlia tubers in a pot in April because they need warm soil and the new shoots shouldn’t be planted until the end of May when the soil is dependably warm. Whether you are choosing small dahlias that can spend their life in a pot or a tall garden dahlia they need rich, slightly acid soil. While they are just getting started they should not be over watered or the tubers will rot.
There is a case to be made that now is the time to think about mums and dahlias since 2019 early spring will the time to order and plant the more unusual varieties.
Between the Rows September 1, 2018