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story.lead_photo.caption The Blackgum or Black Tupelo is a native to Arkansas and has lovely fall color. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

OCTOBER

Fall is here! With this wonderful weather, everyone wants to be outside. There are plenty of gardening activities awaiting. From planting and garden clean-up to fall decorating, October gives you a wealth of opportunities to garden.

If you haven't been to a nursery or garden center lately, go now. They are loaded with pumpkins and gourds of all sizes and colors, mums, pansies, ornamental kale and cabbage, fall and winter vegetable plants, along with bulbs to plant for spring displays, mulch to freshen up your beds, and so much more. Fall is a great time to plant hardy trees and shrubs.

◼️ Summer annuals got a boost with our recent rains and cool weather. Many of them rebounded and are looking fantastic. It is hard to pull a plant in its prime, so I am beginning to transition from summer to fall/winter garden gradually. Start interspersing winter annuals in with your summer ones. If any of your summer plants don't look 100% pull them out and replace them. You have through mid-November or later to plant winter annuals, but the later you plant, the larger the plants should be to expect blooms and color for the winter months.

◼️ Fall clean-up and re-planting can be done in the vegetable garden and the flower garden. As vegetables, annuals and perennials play out, pull them and add them to the compost pile — if they aren't diseased. Rake up leaves from deciduous shrubs and trees as they fall. Now is a great time to start a compost pile with all the needed raw materials. When you open up a space in the garden, replant. Vegetable transplants are readily available now, along with winter annuals. October is also a great time to plant wildflower seeds and transplants. Make sure the site is clean of weeds and debris before planting or you will end up with a mess next growing season.

◼️ While chrysanthemums or mums are perennials, many gardeners treat them as annuals and buy new plants each fall. If you do keep your mums from year to year, keeping them pruned and divided to give you these perfect mounded plants takes time. It is much easier to just buy new plants each year. With cool weather and ample moisture, they can be in bloom for 6-10 weeks depending on how open the flower buds are when you buy them.

◼️ From daffodils to tulips, crocus and hyacinths, spring bulbs are available at nurseries and garden centers. Plant them in a well-drained site with plenty of sun, then sit back and wait for spring. Bulbs are typically planted 2-2 ½ times as deep as they are large. If you have tender summer bulbs that you want to save and replant, October to early November is the time to dig them up. Caladium bulbs and fancy elephant ears need to be dug and stored before or immediately after the first frost. Most of our common green elephant ears are winter hardy in Arkansas. When digging bulbs, cut off the tops and shake as much of the soil off as possible. Let them air dry on a layer of newspapers in your garage for a few days. Then remove as much of the dry soil as possible and store them in a cardboard box. Shipping peanuts or shredded paper work well to layer them in. You don't want them crowded together or they can rot during storage. Store in a cool, dry place until next spring.

◼️ Pay attention to the weather these days. Any houseplants or tropical plants that you plan to keep in your house over the winter, need to make the move before temperatures get really low. We have had a taste of cool weather already, so it is not a bad idea to start the move. Clean up the plants, checking for any insects. You don't want to move more than plants inside. Give them a very bright location indoors and cut back on watering. Moving them inside when the conditions inside and out are similar reduces transplant shock.

NATIVE PLANT OF THE MONTH

The Blackgum grows up from 30-60 feet tall with a spread of 20-30 feet that makes it work for smaller landscapes that benefit from height without excessive width.
(Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
The Blackgum grows up from 30-60 feet tall with a spread of 20-30 feet that makes it work for smaller landscapes that benefit from height without excessive width. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
Blackgum flowers are small but prized by bees. The female blooms produce black berries in the fall. 
(Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
Blackgum flowers are small but prized by bees. The female blooms produce black berries in the fall. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Nyssa sylvatica, commonly called black gum, blackgum or Black tupelo, is one of the prettiest native trees in the fall of the year. The tree is drought tolerant, can survive in a wide range of soils and is beneficial to bees and wildlife. It is one of the first trees to turn color in the fall, with brilliant shades of red leaves. The tree will grow 30-60 feet tall with a narrower spread of 20-30 feet which makes it a good choice for a smaller yard that needs height, but not width. It is slow to get established in the first few years after planting, but once a root system is established it gets in its stride. The small flowers are heavily prized by bees in the spring, but they are quite small, so a gardener is not growing it for showy blooms. Some trees will have more male flowers, while other trees will have more female flowers, but there will usually be both types of flowers on each tree. If you have a tree with a lot of small bluish black berries in the fall, you typically have more female flowers, while those with limited fruiting have more male flowers. This is a term known as polygamodioecious. In recent years there have been several new introductions including weeping forms and variegated forms. Fall is an ideal time to plant any tree.

Read Janet Carson's blog at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.

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