Some years, summer never seems to leave; other years winter’s cold arrives during fall, and true fall becomes the overlooked middle child.
Who can forget the fall (early December) snowstorm of a few years ago? There have been Thanksgivings when we had to open all the windows while we roasted the turkey.
We greet autumn, a lovely word for fall, on Sept. 23. In 2019, fall officially ends on Dec. 20, with winter stepping in on Dec. 21. That is what the calendar says. Reality can be quite different for us in east central Alabama.
One autumn activity never changes: leaves fall, drifting on every surface. Blowers seems to run 24/7. Children jumping around in large piles of crispy leaves becomes a common sight.
Fall is special (even if it can be dry as a bone). The mornings get a bit of a chill; the skies are an incredible shade of blue; changing foliage becomes a star.
Autumn flowers fill our gardens. The annuals that are weary from summer’s unrelenting heat perk up and bloom again. Camellias start blooming while the dahlias are getting a second breath. Humans, too, begin to look happier as they recover from the furnace blast of summer.
A trip to the garden center is reminiscent of a child’s trip to a holiday toy land. Mums, aster and snapdragons surround us. Pansy faces in every color of the rainbow beam at us. A visit to a camellia nursery dazzles us. We have to stifle the tendency to go wild and fill our shopping carts or (in my case) wagons.
According to seasoned gardeners, fall is “the” best time to plant in our area. It’s time for shrubs, trees and perennials to go in the ground. Mark your calendars for late October to get started; the days have cooled and winters rains are not far away. Mother Nature will take care of those newbies. The plants can spend their energy building strong roots without worrying about being beautiful all the time.
Consider adding summer annuals to fill in the empty spots where summer perennials are resting and last spring’s annuals have faded away. It is never a waste of money to plant annuals, although cold is around the corner.
An option for the thrifty gardener is to buy a selection of annuals when they look sad and are reduced to pennies. Pot them up and, with some TLC, they can look like new. Voila! Fall color for a bargain. Those orange and rust marigolds will be perfect for October.
Gardeners religiously follow the mantra of planting for four seasons, so consider the plants that shine in autumn. Their colors may not be fall’s typical shades. Many garden shops have fall sales on perennials.
Porches will soon be lined with bodacious baskets of florists’ chrysanthemums. Many of my gardening friends have luck planting them in the ground for the next spring. If that seems like too much effort, go for the perennial mums. They come in shades of yellow, white and pink. Yes, pink is a fall color.
‘Ryan’s Pink’ returns every year, forming a larger clump each fall. As its growth habit causes it to get fairly floppy by fall, a haircut about July promotes a neater plant.
Japanese anemone, another dependable fall perennial, has diminutive pink, red or white blooms (single and double). In my garden, one has become dozens. Although their stems arch gracefully, they can get leggy and fall over; it is a small price to pay for their presence. Grab a stake and give them a boost. If they are in the right place they will spread. Share the extras. Unfortunately, the deer love them as much as the humans.
‘Autumn Joy’ perennial sedum is a delight. The large flower heads remain green until fall, when they begin to turn to pink, eventually changing to red. By the first frost, they are rust-colored. They do best in full sun. They require little to no care except to cut them back when the stems freeze.
American beautyberry is at its finest in the fall. The small green berries turn an intense shade of lipstick pink and cover the arching, deciduous branches.
White beautyberry is loaded with white berries instead of pink. The plant looks like it is covered with small white pearls. If you should decide to prune this delightful woodland plant, do so in late winter.
Camellia sasanquas begin their show in early fall (or late summer) with ‘Sparkling Burgundy’. From that time, we have a constant bloom until the Christmas holidays. Sasanqua blooms tend to be smaller than the well-known camellia japonicas, but there will be hundreds on a large shrub. The glossy green foliage remains all year, providing greenery when the deciduous plants have shed their leaves.
There is a sasanqua for every color lover. Plant your sasanquas where they can get some relief from the hot sun; give them plenty of space as they can get large over time. There are so many beautiful ones to choose from. A visit to a camellia nursery when the sasanquas are blooming will leave you spellbound.
Confederate roses burst into bloom in early fall. This perennial can form a large deciduous bush or a small tree. Some gardeners cut them down after the first frost; others leave them up and cut them down in early spring. Hint: they are very easy to propagate from cuttings, so you can grow some for you and some for friends. While the red single ones have been blooming all summer, the double ones bloom at this time of the year. A confederate rose in bloom with its ruffled petals is a breathtaking sight.
Ginger lilies are still going strong. This perennial multiplies from rhizomes (another good one to share). Its flowers are loved by hummingbirds have a delicious scent.
Encore azaleas are making their second bloom for the year. They have a big burst in the spring, and in fall begin to bloom again. This dependable azalea is often blooming in autumn when nothing else is.
Autumn crocus (Colchicum) is a delicate fall bloomer. It develops from a corm and is a member of the lily family, not the crocus. Sadly, all parts of it are toxic; admire, but do not eat. They do add their own hues to the fall garden: violet, white and mauve. Plant in part- or full-sun in a protected site.
Although many claim they are allergic to goldenrod, ragweed is usually the culprit. Goldenrod’s yellow flowers line the roadsides, but these dependable fall bloomers have a place in our gardens as well.
JOE PYE WEED
Joe Pye weed is not really a weed but a native perennial beloved by pollinators, especially the butterflies. It is another one to shine in the fall. These are large plants with a big head of small flowers. Some species may require more water, so research your purchase. I killed mine but would love another.
Drift and Knock Out roses are still blooming well, adding another array of colors to the fall garden.
What would fall be without leaves? Bright yellow leaves, red leaves, orange leaves form a mosaic in our fall gardens. The star of the fall is the Japanese maple. My yard is planted with an array of maples and reminds me of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Their autumn garb is as magnificent as the blooms of showy flowers.
Fall-blooming Lycoris radiata — or spider or hurricane lily — is one of fall’s jewels. They seem to appear out of nowhere in early fall with their delicate flowers. You may know the coral-red ones the best. There are white and red ones as well.
Lycoris squamigera — also known as magic lily, surprise lily or naked lily — is also beloved by gardeners. Sadly, the black lubber grasshoppers ate mine when they were about ¼ inch tall.
What is fall (and winter and spring) without containers and beds of pansies? On the darkest January day, they will brighten your world.
If you have ignored pansies because they were too much trouble, fill a container and prepare to see cheerfulness in your yard on a daily basis. I baby mine with good soil, the right fertilizer and moisture, as well keeping the spent flowers plucked off to encourage blooming.
An absolute no-no is to plant pansies early while it is hot and dry. Late October to early November is best; pansies detest the heat and will stretch and pout (big time).
Asters are a dear addition to the fall garden. Flowers are usually purple but may also come in white, blue or pink. There are taller ones that go great in the back of the flower bed, and shorter ones for the front. They appreciate fertile soil. Asters start appearing in garden centers about the same time as pansies. Some are perennial and others annual. Asters are on my shopping list this year. Most are not drought-tolerant.
Garden centers will be stocking snapdragons in outrageous colors about the same time as the pansies appear. They do not do very well in the coldest part of the winter, but they are a boost to the garden in the fall (and the spring).
Sherry Blanton, “The Southern Gardener,” writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook at Southern Gardener-Anniston Star.