September 2020

Daphne shrub that grows outside my back door. There are more than 70 species making individual identification tricky. Did you know that Daphne’s are poisonous?

The heat and lack of rainfall set the stage for wildfires in Oregon this month. The smokey conditions kept us inside for more than a week following Labor Day and the plants themselves didn’t seem too happy about the poor air quality either. Many nearby communities were evacuated and I’m thankful for the firefighters who continue to work diligently to save lives and property. These yearly wildfires are an ongoing reminder about the need for personal action and public policy addressing climate change.

One of the challenges with inheriting a garden, is the mystery of the plants themselves. Since our family moved in August, we missed most of the flowering season making it tricky to identify what’s growing. I’m left with many green stems and bushes leaving the first question…. “Is it a weed or is it a flower?” One might think that would be an easy question, but with our move came a change of USDA plant hardiness zone. All my knowledge of pigweed, buttonweed, milk thistle and dandelions seems pretty useless in my current garden. Now I am meeting my new opponents wild carrot, blackberry vines and volunteer oak trees.

Since so many of my herbaceous and woody plants have already flowered I can only identify them in generic terms: like iris, daisy, clematis and daylily. Next years garden will be an interesting color surprise. The identification problem has led to some challenges with planning my garden care and leading to me falling back on my more general garden knowledge about pruning and feeding.

This iris bed by the back gate is overrun with wild carrot and grass.

What I’m Up To This Month:

  • Cutting back dead and dying herbaceous perennials
  • Weed, weed, weed
  • Deadhead the last of the roses
  • Pick apples and pears
  • Attack invasive blackberries
  • Planting a clover and grass mix in the yard
  • Pick up sticks (this is a serious and ongoing endeavor)
  • Dividing irises.
  • Dividing sedum.
  • Raking so many leaves. Really, how can there be so many so soon?

This Month’s Featured Plant

The first blooms on my Symphyotrichum. It was popular with bees and butterflies. Regular deadheading will bring on blooms for longer.

At the start of the month I was pleasantly surprised when one of my border plants started flowering. It had been looking raggedy and I assumed it had already bloomed and was dying back. Then one day, the bright pink flowers caught my attention. It was a happy introduction to Symphyotrichum, which had been hiding in my borders near other dying daisies. There are a number of former names related to this plant including Michaelmas Daisy or New England Aster. And let’s be honest Aster is sooo much easier to say.

I enjoy the freshness that its color brings to my autumn garden. It complements the other pinks of Hylotelephium spectabile (formerly Sedum spectabile) that is spotted throughout the border. This Aster has really been the star of my September garden and very popular with the pollinators to boot.

Symphyotrichum prefer full sun to part shade conditions. People without a million oak trees on their property should avoid planting asters in locations that get too hot in the midday summer sun. They require moderate amounts of water, otherwise the bottom leaves get brown like mine. Their mature height can vary by species and next year I will be looking to stake them in July or August. I missed the opportunity to take cuttings (between April and August) but will probably try to divide them in the spring to spread the cheeriness.

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