By Donna Williamson
I get more sentimental in the fall. Though some call it the beginning of the gardening year with the planting of daffodils and tulips, I think about saying “see you later” to the main players in my garden.
The heirloom tomatoes that have not succumbed to disease look chubby with their abundant green leaves and happy yellow flowers waiting for a bee.
The dahlias are gorgeous, and the salvias fat and sassy. Coleus has never looked better. I scan the weather report for threats of frost. The tree canopy thins as leaves drop here and there.
Dahlias are lush, exuberant, and cheery. They seem to do their best for me in September and October when cool nights return. Colors seem more vibrant in the lowering sun of autumn.
Before the frost comes, I dig up my dahlias, cut off the foliage and flowers, and trim excess roots. Some folks wait for a killing frost to dig dahlias and cannas – I never liked the idea of salvaging a worthy bulb that had damaged
tissue from frost.
I used to wash off the soil and let the tubers dry in the sun, but a talk by bulb expert Brent Heath at the Piedmont/Blue Ridge Horticulture Society (PBRHS.org) last year changed my approach. Brent told us water will encourage fungal growth and damage the bulb over the winter so now I just let them dry off in the sun and shake off excess soil. Once dried off, I wrap them in plastic wrap with a plant tag showing the name (if I have it) and put them in a big plastic jug that used to hold pretzels. Cleaned of food and salt, this container will show if excess moisture builds up and I can remove the top and allow for evaporation. Seems to work for me – I can carry most of my dahlia tubers through the winter and into the next growing season.
This year I expect to learn more. Don Dramstad of Leesburg will be sharing his experiences with members of PBRHS on October 15 at Blandy. So we will learn more about these fabulous tubers of the plant world.
There has been a big happy show from the asters as usual. The Korean mums bloom around the middle of the month, and the roses will shine into November. The fall show of leaves will be a delight and of course I will plant more spring bulbs.
I hate to see October go. But then there is next year. I wonder which tomatoes I will try!
Donna Williamson is a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. Author, The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low-Maintenance Gardening in Virginia, dwfinegardening.com, 540-877-2002.