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Grace's Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace' was such a pretty plant until it died this summer.

Rake leaves, pull plants and find the nearest plant sale — stat!

Here we are in October, already. Where does the time go? I am always sad to say goodbye to the warmth of summer days with blue sky and sunshine.

Well, this summer’s weather wasn’t exactly never-ending blue skies. Kind of strange, wasn’t it? But I’m not complaining. It was nice to experience cooler days with only a few brief heat waves. I think the plants appreciated it, too. I noticed that blooms on several plants lasted much longer than in the heat-scorched summers of the past few years.

October is typically the transition month and we can count on the drizzle as the clouds roll in and hold position. The upside for gardeners is that October is our second spring. The chores we thought about all summer are now doable without too much stress on the gardener or the plants.

The soil is moist and friable making it easier for us to dig, divide, replant or pull and toss in the case of weeds. Hopefully there is time to get everything settled before a frost.

I lost two big shrubs this summer. My 11-year-old Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ succumbed to some kind of no-see-um borer while my 19-year-old Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) bit the dust for no apparent reason.

After lamenting their respective demises, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to redesign the spaces that they had occupied. Since I have almost as many plants in containers as I do in the ground, there is a plethora to choose from without going to the nursery to spend a bunch of money.

But wait, October is the best time to go to the nursery and spend a bunch of money. Fall plant sales are abundant and you’re likely to get a whole lot more bang for your buck than you could during spring and summer.

Most nurseries send out regular emails with details of their events. If you aren’t signed up be sure to do it, so you’ll be alerted to the specifics of their sales.

Among the many ideas to inspire you, you’ll find plants to dress up your containers for winter. Traditional things such as kale and pansies are nice as are the more exotics like pretty-leafed coral bells, dwarf conifers or ornamental grasses and hardy sedums. And don’t forget spring blooming bulbs, also for sale now.

I’ve mentioned many times the hefty October chore of leaf raking. With three large sweet gum trees in my front yard, I’ve got a regular storm of dropping leaves and, believe me, the task can be quite daunting, but also good exercise.

I’m sure you can remember the bygone days, when the merits of organic matter eluded us and we burned our leaf piles. No more. The municipal yard debris people will take them off our hands.

Or better yet, we can assign a designated, out-of-sight area for storing leaves over the winter so they can break down for use next spring. Even now I’ll be spreading some of them to cover bare dirt. This will hold back the weeds, keep the soil moist and insulate plant roots from impending frost. And doing so now will make things much easier in the spring when baby weeds look for every opportunity to thrive.

Now is also the time to move pots of frost-sensitive, tender plants into protected areas, such as a sunny window, green-house or garage. Check for critters first, cut back foliage as needed and keep the soil damp. ☸

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