Unlikely Fall Flowers
We typically think of marigolds, geraniums and petunias as spring flowers, but these also love the cooler evenings of late summer and fall. In fact, petunias can take a little frost. So, if you have any of these in your garden that barely hung on through summer, trim back the tips of the branches and feed them with a little liquid fertilizer. They may surprise you. Look for marigolds for sale in garden centers now, too, with their great orange shades for autumn. They won’t endure cold weather, but will be glorious from now until frost.
An Evening Garden Glows
Have you ever noticed how white flowers, silver foliage and pale pastel flowers seem to light up at dusk? When it gets just dark enough for the other flower colors to disappear, the lighter ones are reflecting what little light is left in the sky or perhaps from your outdoor lights. Take a look at your garden to see where you might add some white. Good permanent choices for fall planting (will bloom next year) include white lilies, any shrub with a big white bloom (like gardenia, Annabelle, Oakleaf or Pegee hydrangeas) snowball viburnum, white althea, white azalea and white perennial hibiscus. For immediate effect this fall, try white pansies.
Just having returned from parched and water-rationed Southern California makes me grateful for all the rainfall we’ve had this year. Nevertheless, fall is our driest time and it may also be a good time to consider a way to collect rainwater for the garden. Systems range from inexpensive, do-it-yourself rain barrel kits to professionally-installed tanks holding thousands of gallons. Serious gardeners might want to start dropping hints to the family about these being the perfect Christmas gift! One inch of rainfall on a 1,000-square-foot roof generates about 600 gallons of water. So, you can see how typical 50-gallon rain barrels are a good start, but literally just a drop-in-the-bucket compared to what actually comes off your roof. You can connect several barrels in a relay to increase your total capacity. One very interesting collection system re-circulates water stored in underground cisterns through fountains or waterfalls to create a landscape feature that hides the whole system. Read more about it at www.rainexchange.com.
Time for a Second Spring
Fall is like a second spring for planting. In fact, it’s better than spring for landscaping. By setting out landscape plants and perennials in the fall, you give them months in the ground to grow roots before their tops start growing in the spring. In autumn, the ground is still warm and the air is cooling down so there is little stress as long as you keep plants watered. The roots can grow while the top is quiet, leaving the plant to do its underground work. About the only ones you don’t plant now are tropicals and half-hardy plants like palms and hibiscus that are damaged by winter.
This sharply-flavored green has become a common item in the produce section of grocery stores. It adds a wonderful piquant bite to a salad; some fans just do entire salads of arugula alone topped with a contrasting sweetness of raspberry dressing and goat cheese. Now is a good time to plant the hardy green for harvests in fall and even winter in warmer regions of the state or under cover in North Alabama. The leaves are low in calories but high in nutrients, especially vitamins A, C and K, and calcium. Arugula sold at the stores as baby arugula are young leaves, while those you grow at home will grow large enough to tear into pieces for your salad if you prefer.
Late Summer and Fall Border
I love a flower border especially designed to hit its peak in late summer and fall. There is something magical about this grand finale of flowers and color before winter, especially as butterflies and hummingbirds visit during their southern migrations. If you have room to spare, consider planting a bed of late-blooming color. Now is the time to shop around for some of the perennial items to go in such a bed and to make note of any annuals and tropicals you would pick up next spring. Some good plants to consider are: Cherokee rose (Hibiscus mutabilis), Firebush (Hamelia patens), Turks cap (Malvaviscus penduliflorus), late blooming ornamental grasses, Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), Mexican sage (Salvia mexicana), chrysanthemums, asters, swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) Autumn Joy and others, Joe Pye weed and goldenrod (there are improved cultivated varieties of these roadside "weeds").
Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.