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The Garden in Transition

Late summer is the time when gardeners need to become involved and help the garden make a graceful transition from summer into fall. Removing spent flowers and damaged foliage will not only inject new life into these plants but will also set the stage for the late flowering plants.

By now, most of the spring flowering perennials, biennials and bulbs are long since past and most have died back to the ground level. The foliage should be removed and placed in the compost. Yellow foliage serves no further purpose to benefit the plant and only scars the overall image of the garden. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra) and Poppies (Papaver) are two examples of spring plants which end their growing season early and lie dormant until next spring. Be sure to mark where these plants are as you are bound to be tempted to plant something in their place. Baby's Breath (Gypsophila) and Gayfeather (Liatris) are excellent companions for spring flowering plants since they will hide the declining plant by growing over and around them.

A sharp pair of secateurs and reliable garden gloves are the most desirable gardening aids at this time of the year. With the secateurs, cut back the spent flower heads of the summer flowering perennials. The extent of the pruning will depend upon the plant and those which surround it. As a general rule, leave any healthy foliage on the plant since the green leaves will take in sunlight for the remainder of the growing season and build up strength in the root system for next years show. In many cases, the plants may re-flower. With Ox-eye Daisies, I tend to do a combination of cutting off the tops and ripping out the entire plant. These seed themselves readily in the garden and sometimes you need to be ruthless and clear out space for other things to grow.

Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria) puts out a marvellous show through the month of July but the foliage browns out at the tops shortly after petal drop. I tend to leave the seed heads on for a week or so to allow it to re-seed and then I cut it back to just above the leafy rosette at the base and save the seeds for future use. If cut back early enough, these do send up a second crop of flowers.

Lamb's Ears (Stachys) tends to develop a mould if the flower stalks are left to fall into the middle of the plant. Lamb's Ears is grown mainly for its attractive grey, woolly foliage, but I find the flowers to be a highlight in late June and early July. Cutting back severely will prevent mould and promote the spread of new, healthy foliage.

While clearing out and cutting back the plants which are now of little ornamental appeal, you may also take the time to remove weeds which have thus far escaped your critical eye. The definition of a weed is strictly a matter of opinion and I find that my weed list tends to be larger in the late summer than it was in the spring. I tend to be more lenient after months of winter. Being ruthless with your decisions about what can stay and what must go is important when attempting to promote a fresh look for the fall season.

By moving through the gardens with clips and tugs you are uncovering a new garden which lays beneath the bountiful spring and summer growth. The late flowering plants will then have room to flourish and expand, or the soil will be exposed for planting seeds or for mulching to protect the bulbs or plants beneath.

There are many plants which will be in the spotlight for the remainder of the season until the fall colours emerge for a further transition in the garden. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Phlox (Phlox sp.) , Asters (Chrysanthemum sp.), Goldenrod (Solidago), ornamental grasses of all types, Perennial sunflowers (Helianthus) and Bee Balm (Monarda) are a few examples of perennials which keep my garden alive through August and September.

Annuals are the steady, reliable show pieces in every garden. During a transition phase, you can't help but be pleased that you took the time and effort to include annuals within all of your ornamental beds. Annuals bridge the gap of loveliness which can often occur in even the most carefully design garden.

By taking the time now to clear out the old and bring in the new, the garden will reward you throughout the late summer and early fall with a bountiful show of vibrant hot colour.

Daisy Moore, 1999.




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