Planning for the Fall Garden

While the calendar may still read summer, autumn is right around the corner and it is time to start gearing up for the season. By planting a few seasonal super stars now you can extend your garden’s beauty until winter’s first hard frost.

Perennials – Each season has its own color palette and fall is one of the richest of them all. There are perennials that you can add to your garden now that will bolster autumn’s tapestry. Purple asters and blue salvias are wonderful color complements to the red, orange and gold foliage of the season.

And if you are a savvy shopper then you know that garden centers offer end-of-the-season prices to reduce their inventory before winter sets in. This means now is the time to get some great deals on plants that have yet to shine.

Here is a short list of some of my favorite autumn super stars:
Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’ (perennial)
Aster ‘Alma Potchke’ (perennial)
Salvia vanhouttii 'Paul' (perennial)
Japanese Anemone (perennial)
Hardy Begonia (perennial)
Arkansas Amsonia (perennial)
Autumn Fern (perennial)
Autumn Crocus (perennial bulb)
Lycoris (perennial bulb)
Nerine (perennial bulb)

Fall Flower BorderOrnamental Grasses – The texture and movement of ornamental grasses makes them well suited to the fall season. Look for varieties such as miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and dwarf fountain grass ‘Little Bunny’.

Annuals – When it comes to pumping up the color in your garden it is hard to beat annuals. You can breath new life into your summer annuals by applying a liquid fertilizer every 7 to 10 days and cutting back those that have grown leggy.

If you live in a region where warm summer weather extends well into fall, sow a second wave of fast growing annual flowers such as cosmos, gomphrena and celosia.

And save room for cool season favorites such as violas, pansies and snapdragons.

Container Gardens - Plan on revamping your container gardens for fall with a few “slip- in” plants. These are the plants you can add now to replace tired-looking summer flowers. Some substitutes I rely on are kale, pansies, snapdragons or ornamental grasses. Small trees and shrubs with striking foliage also a nice choice for giving your container gardens an autumnal glow. Try Virginia sweet spire, euonymus, Japanese maple, dwarf crape myrtle and fothergilla. At the end of the season, before the ground freezes you can transplant these into your garden’s flower borders.

Shrubs and Trees – The true stars of the fall landscape are those trees and shrubs that produce brilliantly colored foliage.

In Northern regions plant trees and shrubs in the ground well before the first frost date in your area so they can get established before cold weather sets in. Warm climate gardeners should wait until the heat breaks in the fall before planting. You will find that the cooler temperatures and more plentiful rain of autumn make the job of caring for newly planted trees and shrubs much easier.

Vegetables – Like the early days of spring, the cool temperatures in fall are ideal for growing certain vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Now is the time to get out your seed catalogs and place your order for lettuce, spinach and arugula. Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are better started from transplants purchased at a local garden center. In my mid-South zone 7 garden I begin planting as soon as I sense that the heat is about the break, which is usually late August to mid-September.

When determining your planting date and selecting crops for your vegetable garden, you need to know the number of days it will take for a plant to mature and the first frost date of the season. You might think the best way to know when to plant is to take your average frost date and backup the number of days until maturity. But this doesn't take into account the cooler and shorter days to come. It's actually better to come up with an imaginary harvest date a few weeks before frost and back up from there.

Estimated First Frost Dates by Zone
Zone 3 – September 1st – 30th
Zone 4 – September 1st – 30th
Zone 5 – September 30th – October 30th
Zone 6 – September 30th – October 30th
Zone 7 – October 15th – November 15th
Zone 8 – October 30th – November 30th
Zone 9 – November 30th – December 30th
Zone 10 - November 30th – December 30th
Zone 11 – Frost Free

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