Brighten Your Fall Gardens

by Jan Cashman

The summer gardening season is short here. The first frost kills tender annuals and nipsthe tops of some perennials. Suddenly, our gardens don’t look so good. Here are some ideas to brighten up your gardens and extend the season:

Plant fall blooming perennials. Mums, asters, purple coneflower (Echinacea) and brown eyed susans (Rudbeckia) are commonly planted flowers that give late color to yourperennial garden. These are all good in our fall gardens, but there are a few others that are equally showy. White ‘David’ garden phlox is a favorite of mine. It blooms for a long period starting in mid-August and will take some frost. When cut, its old-fashioned fragrance fills the house; the flowers last a long time in water. Autumn Joy Sedum is easy to grow and provides four season interest in the garden, especially in the fall when the flower clusters turn a rosy-red. The perennial Joe Pye Weed, named after an American herbalist, blooms late with rose-red blooms that attract butterflies. Its height makes it a perfect background plant. Even though they are done blooming, some perennials such as hardy geraniums, make a fall impact in our gardens when their foliage turns bright red.

Showy and unusual, the lavender-colored flowers of the low-growing Autumn crocus (Colchicum) will have your friends and neighbors asking what it is. This long-lived bulb is planted in the fall and blooms in the fall.

Ornamental grasses are perfect for fall gardens with their golden seed heads and leaves. The tall grass called Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ turns red-orange in the fall. Panicum ‘Shenandoah’ turns dark red and has delicate, beadlike seed heads.

The first frost takes many of our annuals like marigolds, zinnias and impatiens. But other annuals, such as dusty miller and snapdragons, tough out the frost and look fine. Leave these annuals as long as you can, and interplant with ornamental kale and mums where you have removed the frozen plants. I have had good luck with fall planting of pansies; they came back full and beautifully early in the spring, where my spring-planted pansies came back sporadically and small.

Your container gardens may be looking a bitleggy by late summer. Cut back the plants that need it and pull out those that are failing. Then tuck in ornamental kale, pansies, or mums to give your containers a freshfall look. Ornamental grasses are a perfect plant for fallcontainers. Small evergreens added to your containers take the look into early winter.

Fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs because the weather is cooler and the plants are starting to go dormant. There is less transplant shock and the plantshave time to root in before winter. Quaking aspens’ golden fall color makes our valley beautiful. Birch, too. New maple trees with stunning fall leaves are being selected for hardiness each year. Some are surviving well here. Shorter tatarian and ginnala maples are hardier and have bright red-orange leaves in the fall.

Burning bush, cotoneaster, spireas, and dwarf cranberrybush shrubs give our yards brilliant fall color. Less often planted, but equally brilliant in the fall, are tall, hardy nannyberry viburnum and drought tolerant, native skunkbrush sumac. There is even a lilac whose leaves turn dark burgundy in the fall called Miss Kim.

Don’t be too quick to cut back your flowers this fall. I leave my perennials until the foliage turns brown. Leave ornamental grasses and tall sedums and they will add interest to your gardenall winter. Other flowers can be cut, dried and used for flower arrangements and Christmas decorating.

There are lots of plants-annuals, perennials, grasses, trees, and shrubs-that give your yard color in the fall. Plant some in your perennial garden, annual garden, containers, and landscape for a burst of color.