Friday, September 28, 2012

Pick Up Fall Color!

     The intense summer heat is finally easing off.  We no longer are having to worry about every day that we go through without rain and I find myself no longer praying for every odd thunderstorm that might remotely pass by.  In fact, we are getting rain and have morning dew again!  Something that happens every year about this time but that always amazes me because it is such a complete reversal.
     Unfortunately, the garden always shows the effects of a long hot summer by this time of year.  Leaves begin to thin on the trees - even though they have not really begun to change color, some begin to fall.  Grass gets a bit ragged looking unless you have a cool season grass.  More noticeably, flowers reach their seasonal blooming period end and the garden becomes one of stalks and green leaves.  The weather is beautiful and we naturally want to see color in the garden to match the weather, but many plants are just simply worn out by this time of year and are winding down toward a time of future dormancy.
     There is, of course, always the choice of the big three - the 'go to' flowers that you see everywhere for fall color.  These are in universal use and are highly dependable.  These include roses, chrysanthemum and  sasanqua.  Roses are especially pretty when the temperatures lower.  For fall color make sure that you are using roses that bloom more than once a year as those tend to only bloom in the late spring or early summer.  Most of these will bloom right up to the first killing frost and often the colors and scents become more intense later into the fall.  Chrysanthemums are a herbaceous perennial.  They suddenly appear at home improvement and grocery stores in pots and many people use them as a fall annual - planting them for their blooms and then pulling them out after they finish blooming.  They can actually be left and will bloom faithfully every fall for years.  Sasanqua is actually a camellia and produces lovely flowers beginning in early fall and often blooming right into December.  They make a lovely evergreen shrub with glossy green leaves and a nice oval shape, but the flowers in the fall are their special bonus.
     I like to use a few other flowering plants as well.  Two lovely perennials will go through the summer and well into the fall, often right up to the first killing frost.  One is the black-eyed Susan otherwise known as Rudbeckia.  It has lovely daisy-like yellow flowers and is amazingly hardy.  The other is the aster which, like Rudbeckia prefers full sun and can take hot dry soil.  Asters are also daisy-like and bloom in a number of colors ranging from blue to pink and purple.  Both of these flowers are easily available in any garden center.
     A bit less known but definitely worth planting are a handful of fall blooming natives.  Look in open fields and other odd bits of open land and you will most likely see tickseed (Bidens aristosa) blooming at this time of year.  It is a lovely annual that reaches three to four feet in height and becomes a solid yellow when it reaches full bloom.  Flowers have eight petals and are delicate but reach two inches across.  Also in these kinds of open and disturbed areas you are likely to see partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata).  I has a delicate compound leaf and a yellow pea shaped flower with red stamens.  It also is an annual and will actually begin blooming in July but will continue to flower into October.  If your soil holds water, Lobelia - either the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) which blooms red or the great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) which blooms blue are a great choice.  Both are perennials that will bloom well into the fall but begin in mid summer, and both shoot up flower spikes.  Individual flowers are held horizontally along the spike.  Finally, ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is a lovely fall blooming perennial.  It can reach nine feet in height and will bloom an intense purple.  These natives are not necessarily available in the local plant store, but you can get them to grow on your site by seeding them.   They also do not easily lend themselves to neat, tended beds, but they are gorgeous in large rambling plots of mixed flowers.
     One last trick for fall color is to use a nice ornamental grass.  These can sometimes be found in plant stores but can also be grown from seed.  For great fall color, try pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).  It is a very drought tolerant grass that reaches three feet in height.  It normally has a blue-green foliage, but sends out a profusion of pink fluffy plumes in September which it holds until Dec.
     So, go out and enjoy the cooler weather!  While you're outside, plant some great late blooming color to help you to enjoy the season.

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