Spark up your late-summer garden with plants that add color and interest even as fall’s cooler temperatures arrive. By choosing plants that offer features such as colorful foliage, attractive seed pods, and interesting textures, you can create a “second spring” in your garden. Here’s how to choose plants that will keep your garden looking its best from now until frost:
Clean things up. By the time September rolls around, many plants have lost their luster. Annuals often look leggy and worn, many summer perennials are finished blooming, and foliage is tattered and torn. Take a close look at your flower borders and containers with an eye for what can stay and what must go. Clean up and pinch back plants that will revive during the cooler days of fall (such as petunias), and pull out annuals that are past their prime.
Take an inventory. Now you’re ready to see the “blank spots” that could use a splash of color or some added texture. Make a list of the empty spots in your garden and how many plants you need to fill each gap. If you don’t have specific plants in mind, write down a general description of plants that would be ideal for each spot. Include color, height, and growing conditions. For example, your shopping list may look like this: three 24- to 32-inch full-sun plants with lavender flowers and one gray-green 18-inch shade-loving plant. Your list of general characteristics makes shopping much easier, and will come in handy if the specific plants you have in mind are not in stock.
Heighten visual interest. As you make your list, keep in mind that plants with contrasting shapes, textures, and colors make good partners. Pair foliage with flowers: A classic combination is a feathery ornamental grass with the bold blooms of ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum. This creates more visual interest than a group of flowering plants. Look for opportunities to use plants with interesting textures, such as lacy ferns and waxy-leafed European ginger. Choose plants with flowers or foliage in autumnal shades of orange, reddish brown, purple, maroon, and butterscotch. These plants create a color bridge between your summer and fall garden. If you need to fill in a spot between two clashing colors, rely on harmonizing shades of gray to soften the contrast.
Rely on containers. In established flower beds, you may prefer not to disturb the ground with more plantings. An easy solution is to pot up containers and place them throughout the garden. You can choose plants and pots in bold colors to create dramatic focal points, or use more subtle shades that will quietly blend into your border. Revamp existing containers next to entrances, decks, and patios by slipping in some fresh plants, or add more pots and fill them with autumnal interest. Take advantage of seasonal accents such as gourds and pumpkins for an extra punch of color.
Early Autumn Tips
Since temperatures can remain high and rainfall low in early autumn, take special care to make sure your garden stays beautiful throughout the fall.
• Water new plants frequently to encourage the development of strong root systems. • Give established plants 1 inch of water per week.
• As you remove spent blooms from your plants, let some flowers develop seed pods for naturalizing, such as larkspur, nicotiana, and cleome. Leave others for their interesting form, such as hydrangea, coneflower, and ornamental grasses.
• Continue weeding to keep flower beds tidy.
• Maintain 2 to 3 inches of mulch around plants.
P. Allen Smith (www.pallensmith.com) is a professional garden designer, host of two national TV programs, a regular guest on the “Today” show, and author of P. Allen Smith’s Container Gardens (Clarkson Potter, 2005) and other books in the Garden Home series.