I know what you are thinking. Why would I plan my fall garden now? Its only the beginning of summer and I have just planted my summer garden. Yes, by now your summer garden should be planted and many of your annual and perennial flowers are in bloom now. Perennial flowers tend to bloom from a few weeks to a month depending on the plant. Some will rebloom if you are willing to remove spent flowers to encourage new blooms. Your annual flowers will also need some pinching back around mid-summer. Don’t be afraid to nip them back a few inches. In a couple of weeks you will be rewarded with new blooms. Cut the spent flowers back along the stem just above a leaf node.I have been growing Alyssum in my garden and its flowers are almost done. I will take my hand pruners and cut the spent flowers off. If I leave the flowers on the plant, they will go to seed and drop seed all over the garden. At this point I would rather have a new flush of pretty white flowers. Alyssum is a wonderful flower to attract beneficial insects to the garden.
So lets look at some great plant choices for fall colour. I know that by the end of July the garden can start looking pretty tired. Its time to plan ahead for those down times in the garden. They happen to all of us. I like to start Dahlias in the spring so I always have some late summer and fall colour. I start my Dahlias in containers and if I have a bare spot that needs some colour I can just pop the container in the garden. Be sure to also plant them in the ground. They are one of the easiest plants to grow and will bloom from mid-summer to frost. This is Dahlia ‘Ferncliff Duo’ in the above photo.
Dahlias are grown from tubers and are available at garden centers in the spring. They cost a few dollars but for the colour they provide its so worth the expense. Dahlias can be a tender plant in some areas so I like to store mine in a cool garage over the winter. There are many different types of Dahlias. Check out Ferncliff Gardens for some wonderful choices. Better yet, visit this Dahlia grower and see the fields and fields of Dahlias in bloom. Their show garden opens August 16 so mark your calendars and make it a day. You will not be disappointed.
Another easy to grow perennial is the Aster. I love these bee friendly plants. They are available in all different sizes but I like the more compact varieties. I didn’t realize for many years that some of the plants sold are treated with a growth regulator. This makes the plants stay more compact for your gardens. Unfortunately after a few years, this wears off and all of a sudden you have a four-foot high Aster. This is one question I would now ask your garden center before buying plants. It’s sad we need to ask the questions. Growth regulators are classed as a pesticide. I know, it doesn’t make me happy either. What would that mean to our bee population? Asters are a beautiful plant so try getting some from one of the garden club plant sales that are held each year. Garden clubs are a fabulous resource for good quality plants.What I like about Asters is their unique mounding habit. Plant these next to Rudbeckia for a real pop of late summer and fall colour.
Rudbeckia or Black Eyed Susan is one of my best performers in the garden. It starts to bloom when our gardens get that tired look in mid July. Right now my plants are in bud but not ready to open quite yet. Its daisy like yellow flowers bloom for months on end. Rudbeckia grows to about three feet high and will spread to about three feet over time. I love being able to divide this plant and use it in other parts of the garden. This plant was named after Professor Olof Rudbeck of Sweden who had Carl Linnaeus, famed botanist, as a student. Carl Linnaeus named the plant to honour Olof and his father.
This Rudbeckia popped up in my garden after I spread some compost in the spring. Note that not all plants labelled Rudbeckia are perennial plants that return each year. Some plants sold are annuals. I had tried and tried to germinate seed from this Rudbeckia but I had no luck so I tossed the soil and seeds into the compost. Sometimes its the accidental plantings that turn out the best. I love surprises in the garden especially with a new flower.
I am sure that most gardens have this perennial flower. Its Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and is an easy plant for beginner gardeners. As you can see, bees love this plant when it is in bloom. Its pink flowers remain in bloom for over a month and gradually turn brown adding winter interest to the garden. I like to leave the flowers on during the winter just to give some structure to the garden. It grows to about 2′ high and almost as wide. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ has a bad habit of falling open in the middle while in bloom. To prevent this, you should be either lightly cut each stem back a couple of inches in May and again at the end of June or you can cut each stem back by 6″ in July. You may have a later bloom and smaller flowers but the plant will be more compact. Be sure to grow this plant in full sun and on lean soil. It’s a plant that needs tough love.
Who doesn’t love Sunflowers? I know my grade three class loves to see how tall some of the Sunflowers grow. It’s always a highlight for the new class in September to see the Sunflowers that the previous class planted. I like to start my Sunflowers in mid to late April by planting seeds directly where I want them to bloom. You can also start them in containers and transplant them but it must be done while they are still small as they do not like to be transplanted. Why not buy some Sunflowers for your containers? There are lots of new shorter varieties available at garden centers now. This year I am growing the short blend Sunflower seeds from West Coast Seeds. It’s a combination of Teddy Bear, Music Box and Sunspot and they only grow to three feet.
Are you wondering what this is? Colchicum or autumn crocus blooms in September here on the south coast. You may have to do a little shopping around to find this beauty but it’s so worth it. It is planted in summer or whenever you see them in the garden centers. In spring they send up long glossy green leaves that go dormant as the temperature warms. All of a sudden, bare stems sporting bright pink blooms pop out of the soil just when you don’t expect them. It is often called the naked lady due to its habit of showing up without leaves. This plant needs deep, fertile, well-drained soil to do well. It also likes full sun. There are many other choices for late summer colour. Try adding some Heaths, Chrysanthemums or Pansies to the garden as well.
So far all the plants I have talked about like full sun to partial shade. What do we plant for fall colour in the shade? Join me next week when we talk about fall choices for the shade garden.
Kristin Crouch is a garden writer, community and school garden mentor and master gardener. To read more of her gardening pursuits, check out her blog at That Bloomin’ Garden.