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Fall Perennials

August is a transitional month when the gardener can take a well earned rest before the full fall schedule of flower garden activity. Dividing perennials, re-planting or re-arranging parts of the garden, improving soil fertility, repairing lawns from summer injury, planting bulbs and preparing the garden for winter are all necessary tasks for the months and weeks ahead.

Fall perennials are a welcome sign that the heat and humidity of the summer are soon to pass. The daisy family, Compositae, is well represented in the fall including popular perennials such as Black-eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Heliopsis, Helianthum, Asters, Chrysanthemums and Goldenrod. The colours are dominantly yellow and purple which turn into rusts and browns, commonly associated with the fall.

Fall mums have come to represent the end of the gardening season as much as snowdrops and daffodils represent the beginning. There are many other perennials which are excellent companions to fall mums and will help with the gradual transition from mid-summer into the fall. As Delphiniums begin to fade it is hard to image how anything can possibly take their place. In my own garden, Lilies, Flowering Onion, Day lilies and Gayfeather are at their flowering peak just in time to bridge the gap until fall flowering asters dominate the landscape.

We can attempt to mimic the colours of nature by including late flowering native wildflowers, such as asters and goldenrod, along with some of their introduced and highly ornamental cousins. Ornamental grasses continue to flower from mid-summer through to the fall. Both the flower heads and the interesting changes in colour of the foliage, make ornamental grasses a must for the fall garden.

Perennial gardens can tend to look untidy in mid to late summer because of the number of plants which are past their flowering season. Spent flowers, seed heads, yellowing and damaged foliage need to be cleared away so that the beauty of the late flowering plants can take over.

Early flowering plants, such as Bleeding Heart, Poppies, and Columbine, will die back to their roots in mid-summer. When the foliage has turned yellow, it should be removed and put into the compost pile. I like to allow the Columbine to go to seed so that some of the seeds are dispersed and the rest collected by me to spread in other "natural areas" around the property. My memory usually tells me where these plants are when I am renovating the beds, but to be on the safe side, I will mark the spots with either a small stake, an interesting rock or piece of garden sculpture. This tells me not to mess with the soil around this area.

A pair of sharp secateurs is the main garden tool I use at this time of year. The soil is usually too dry for cultivation and I don't like to disturb the ground with a trowel. Hopefully, my summer weeding and mulching efforts have kept the weeds in check. With the secateurs, I cut off the spent flowers from plants such as Delphiniums, Chives and Feverfew and put these in the compost. With the roses, I find the thorny stems a nuisance in the compost along with the danger of spreading any diseases, so I tend to include these in the garbage or burn them. For Lupins, Rose Campion, Calendula and other self seeding plants, I remove the seed heads when they turn black and collect them for dispersion around the natural areas of the garden. The black seed pods are an indication that the seeds are ripe.

To get a jump start on fall garden activities, I place compost around the perennials which I know have finished for the year. Cutting off the spent flowers and protecting the root area helps the plants to conserve the energy they need to build a strong root system for the following year. I like to apply a granular fertilizer which is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous, such as 8-12-6, to promote root development. You want to avoid applying too much nitrogen at this time of year because the new succulent growth which is promoted by nitrogen will not harden off properly prior to the winter.

Most importantly, August is the time for pickling and canning all of the wonderful fruits from the garden. If your own harvest has been a disappointment, pop by a local farmers market and share in someone else's success.

Daisy Moore, 1998.




Other autumn garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Fall Perennials
Planning New Beds for Fall Planting
The Garden in Transition
Dividing and Transplanting Perennials
The Dos and Don'ts of Staking Trees
Re-Seeding or Sodding the Lawn
Bulbs: Always Worth the Effort
Fertilizing the Lawn in Late Summer or Early Fall
Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Next Year
Growing Garlic ...For Food or Ornament
Priorities for Fall Gardening
Preparing the Garden for Winter





Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy


Daisy Moore 2006