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Moss' Top Ten Plants of October

Great month, great temps, great light, great shows

October is my favorite month. Grandma Coot turns 79 this month and my sweet little niece turns 8. Grandma Sarah and Grandmother Ruth were also October babies. Growing up in South Carolina, October signaled the end of the heat!. Finally there was some coolness. Pecans ripened, the leaves would begin to change, and football season revved up. I have memories of being in my grandmothers' yards and playing in the leaves, while they were undoubtedly preparing a meal or baking some pastry for me. On top of all that, there's Halloween, the coolest holiday of the year.

Now that I'm an old gardener, I appreciate Ocotber for all those reasons and more. The bounty of the harvest. The brilliant glow of the hunter's moon. The cool lake breeze. The cheesy Svenghoulie movies. And the proliferation of colorful flowers and foliage.

As always, tropical, mild winter, and Chicago winter hardy plants comprise the list.  

Click on thumb for larger image





suagr maple leaves

Sugar Maple
(Acer saccharium)

Deciduous, shade tree up to 100'+. This tree paints the northern woods in shades of orange and red. A main component of God's crayola box. The magical tree is also the source of maple syrup. Shade toloerant and often found in dense stands with beech and basswood.

Mild to cold winters. Temperate climates.

white ash

White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

Deciduous shade tree to 100'. Common street tree. Cultivar 'Autumn Purple' has leaves in shades from bright red to deep scarlet. Open habit allows for understory planting. Strong wood is used for baseball bats and tennis rackets.

Mild to cold winters. Temperate climates.

concord grapes

Concord Grapes (Vitis 'Concord')

Deciduous vine. The essence of grape. The standard beaere for the flavor. This slip skin variety is descended from native grapes. A heavy fruiter, it is the main variety in juices, jellies, and jams. Welchs couldn't exist without Concords.

Mild to cold winters. Temperate climates.

sweet autumn clematis bloom

Sweet Autumn Clemais
(Clematis paniculata)

Deciduous vine. Fast growing vine quickly covers fences and trellises. In happy specimens thousands of buds form in late summer and burst open as cool weather arrives. Fluffy seedheads are attractive in winter, and can be used to insulate half-hardy plants, like stinking hellebore.

Mild to cold winters. Temperate climates.

swamp sunflower

Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolia cultivars)

Perennial to 8'. Late blooming sunflower. Best cultivars have blossoms all along the stem, so plants appear to be a mass of brilliant yellow from a distance. Requires more water than most perennial sunflowwers.

Mild to cold winters. Temperate climates.

honeybee on smooth aster

Smooth Aster (Aster laevis)

Perennial to 4'. Bright purplish flowers coat the plant in autumn. Relished by rabbits and requires protection where they are out of hand. Mine were killed last winter, even the basal leaves were not safe. Blooms with New England aster.

Mild to cold winters. Temperate climates.

aconitum carmichaellii

Autumn Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii cultivars)

Tuberous perennial to 6'. Dramatic spikes of flowers resembling purple helmets open throughout autumn. Typically requires staking to support heavy flowers. Decorative, lobed foliage emerges in early spring. All parts of monkshood (aka wolfbane) are highly toxic.

Mild to cold winters. Temperate climates.

dancing crane cobra lily berries

Dancing Crane Cobra Lily (Arisaema heterophyllum)

Tuberous perennial to 3'+. One of the largest jack-in-the-pulpits. A "flag" species that holds its spathe and spadix above its leaves. Easy to grow and a prolific reseeder.

Mild to cold winters. Temperate climates.

crocus speciosus profile

Autumn Crocus (Crocus speciosus)

Bulbous corm blooms without foliage. Grass-like leaves emerge in late winter. Hardiest, cheapest, most floriferous of the true autumn crocuses. Unfortunately, the foliage is eaten by rabbits and the bulbs are attacked by voles and mice. Container culture experiments are ongoing and have had mixed success.

Mild to cold winters. Temperate climates.

pumpkins on roofdeck
(Cucurbita pepo cultivars)
Annual vine. Large, rambling plant need plenty of space. A native crop cultivated by early Americans. The symbol of autumn, Halloween, and October. Subtropical to tropical climates.

wemoss.org 2008, Last Updated November 6, 2008