Fall ushers in a host of yardwork, with the No. 1 chore being leaf raking. As leaves tumble and planting beds beg for clean-up, lawn mowing is the task that seems most out-of-season. The truth is, in regions with cool-season turf, fall is the time when grass grows readily and quickly. The combination of cooler air and autumnal rains give lawns a jump start that sends them into rapid growth. The reverse is true for warm-season turf, which tends to go dormant in regions where fall brings frost.
To figure out when to stop cutting the grass, pay attention to these seasonal signals.
Soil temperature—Warm-season grasses go dormant when soil temps remain consistently below 55 degrees Farenheit. For cool-season grasses, the soil temp that triggers dormancy is 45 degrees F. You can track soil temps for your area online (search “soil temperature map”), or simply observe grass growth, which slows to a crawl before slipping into dormancy. You know grass is growing more slowly when the time between mowings stretches from every two weeks to once a month.
Leaves—Falling leaves signal the arrival of cooler air. Usually by the time trees are at least 50 percent bare, grass growth should be noticeably slower. But even when grass is dormant, you still need to keep leaves off the lawn, and the easiest way to do that is mulching with the mower.
Frost—Following a few hard frosts, warm-season grasses go dormant. Depending on soil temperature, cool-season grasses can keep growing and may still need mowing. Never mow a lawn when it’s covered in frost, though. It’s best to stay off frosty grass to protect turf crowns.
Fall Mowing Plan
Embrace autumn with a lawn mowing plan that prepares grass for winter. In regions where the snow flies, the goal of your final mowing is to leave grass as short as possible without scalping it. For many turf grasses, that’s a height of 2 inches. Gradually step down mower height through fall until you’re cutting grass to that short length. With each mowing, remember not to remove more than one-third of the total blade length. If grass is actively growing, you may need to mow twice in the same week to reduce grass blade height.
Why Cut Grass Short?
Prevent disease—Long grass is more susceptible to winter fungal diseases known as snow mold, which can kill grass.
Deter voles—Long grass gives voles a place to hide from predators as they munch a ready food source: healthy grass plants and roots. If snow cover is absent, voles are less likely to venture into short grass, which provides no cover from cats, hawks, foxes or owls.
Reduce winter kill—Longer grass is more likely to experience winter kill, especially when snow is present. The snow folds grass blades over the plant crown, which can lead to fungal disease and rot.
In spring, short grass offers several advantages:
Faster green-up—Short grass doesn’t shade soil, allowing sunlight to reach soil and warm it. This leads to earlier growth, also known as green-up.
Less debris—Most leaves skip across short lawns in winter winds, but get bogged down in tall grass.
Less snow mold—Snow mold can occur even in regions without significant snow cover. Winter rains can also mat long grass and allow this fungus to grow and harm grass. Short grass blades stand up to winter rain and snow.
Julie Martens Forney
When to Stop Cutting the Grass
The right time to stop mowing the lawn is when grass stops growing. You may still need to run the mower to mulch leaves on the lawn until as late as December, depending on weather. An early snowfall that doesn’t stick around isn’t a signal to stop mowing. It all depends on grass growth and leaf cover on the lawn. A good rule of thumb is to keep mowing and mulching leaves until roughly 90 percent of them are down. At that point, drive your mower to the shed and give it some post-mowing-season TLC.
1.Take Cuttings. They’re free. You can grow some new plants from stems, some from roots. Some plants root much better than others. This is a great time to get friendly with neighbors…as you exchange cuttings with others, you can get gardening tips too. I found this great tutorial on propagation from the Missouri Extension website.
2. Join a gardening club. Even if its for a short time, you’ll learn a lot and find a bunch of zealots who are willing to share. Tasker’s Chance Gardening Club has a nice website.
Join a Facebook garden group or like a page. There are many! If you can find one that is local or regional, all the better. Here are just a few local Maryland groups I found:
3. Choose plants that fit Maryland’s (or your state’s) climate and your soil type. Plants that are native to Maryland are much easier to care for, and they endure the conditions much better. An easy-care garden is also more appealing to today’s buyers. Local plants are less fussy, resistant to disease and more reliable.
Use this tool from the National Wildlife Federation to find plants that are native to your specific location:
4. Choose Pest resistant bulbs. Bulbs are very economical because they are perennial. The only problem is that some of them are like candy to deer and rodents. There’s nothing worse than watching your investment be the supper of the neighborhood bunnies and squirrels.
5. Choose bulbs that multiply. Watching your bulbs multiply is the way to get the most bang for your buck if you are patient. Small bulbs tend to do this better than larger ones.
6. Choose self-seeding plants. Gotta love those volunteers! Forget-me-not’s are my favorite on this list. Morning Glories aren’t on the list but they are great volunteers.
7. Think outside the box. Use found and repurposed items for planters and garden art. With a few skills you can create stepping stones out of cement, planters out of broken china, or a trellis out of discarded wood or cheap bamboo sticks.
8. Container Gardening is a great choice if you are short on time or space. You can bring them inside during the cold months and extend their life. You can also get creative when it comes to pots and containers, using items that you have on hand. Don’t forget to scout out thrift stores and refuge stores like Habitat for Humanity’s Home Store in Frederick.
Five Great Resources for budget Landscaping
1. The Best Source Ever is the DIY Network Gardening website. You can find just about any tutorial you want, as well as lots of videos. Understanding plant types and what they need is a good start to a successful landscaping plan.
2. Research and Plan Ahead. Make a plan. Keep it flexible, but have a plan. Creating a visual of what you want to accomplish is helpful. If you like to go old school, subscribe to garden magazines and clip the pictures that you like. You can create a collage to make sure you like the color combinations.
Take your plans with you when you visit the garden store so you can take advantage of sales, or pass up a sale when you know that the plants on sale won’t fit your plan.
[special tip: Don’t get dazzled by all the fancy gardening tools, unless you’re not trying to stay on a budget. They may make you look more stylish, but they won’t really make a difference in your gardens.
3. If you’re more inclined to go paperless, there are lots of gardening apps that you can use. I also love to create Pinterest boards to keep my ideas handy. Pinterest is a wealth of information and design ideas! There are some great garden boards to follow.
4. Composting makes more financial sense that buying fertilizer every year. The Frederick County Government Solid Waste Facilities has a composting class, as well as printed materials on the subject. Mixing your soil with compost will help keep your plants healthy.
5. Mulch from Local Recycling Centers is usually a better price than from a commercial company. You just have to haul it yourself..
How Much Should I Budget for Landscaping?
Many professional landscaping companies suggest spending up to 10% of your home’s value on landscaping. Wow. For many of us in Maryland that’s a lot of money. If you’re thinking about selling your home in the near future, then you may not have time for some of these cost-saving methods of creating a beautiful yard. You can, however, combine some of these tips with some more expensive solutions.
Keep in mind that most of the more expensive landscaping ideas, like hardscaping, or fountains, or permanent structures like a pergola, may not give you the best return on investment. For the average home, those projects are really for our own enjoyment.
If you just bought a new home and the landscaping is minimal, you’re probably excited to get started adding some life to your yard. The best advice I ever got when we purchased a new home in Lake Linganore was from a landscaper: Live in the house for a while and get to know the house and the yard before you make any plans. He was right, I had different ideas after a year…better ideas.
Hanging baskets can be more than just a beautiful way to brighten up the front of your home, they can also be a useful way to expand the space you have to grow food for yourself and your family.
Discover the names of 8 Best Herbs for Hanging Baskets to grow them in small space.
Fragrant lavender makes a lovely hanging basket plant with its spikes of purple flowers that attract pollinators. Select a hanging basket that is at least 12 inches in diameter, place liner and potting soil in basket, then place seed on plant in the center. Lightly cover seed or plant roots and water.
Place hanging basket in direct sun. Lavender will bloom in summer, keep spent blooms pruned off plant. Water when soil is dry to touch.
2. Mixed Salad Leaves
For a more delicate display, mixed, cut and come again salad leaves in a range of shapes, sizes and colors will look beautiful and is a great alternative to some of the more traditional hanging basket plants. Combine salad leaves with edible flowers such as pansies and violets for more colorful salads throughout the year.
One of the most attractive and useful flowers for hanging baskets is the nasturtium, which will form large, trailing plants with an abundance of flowers. Not only will nasturtiums look great, they will also add to your salads – the leaves and the flowers are edible. Then, when the plants go to seed, the seeds can be used as an alternative to capers.
Thyme is just one of the many herbs which are well suited to growing in hanging baskets. All of the Mediterranean herbs will do well in the well-drained environment of a hanging basket. Try rosemary, marjoram, oregano, basil and more. Herbs can be added easily to mixed arrangements can can help add flavor to your food throughout the summer months.
Parsley is slow to germinate and can take up to three weeks after planting seeds to show signs of life. Its bright green, feathery leaves are worth the wait and this herb will reward you with tasty flavor all summer.
In early spring, plant seeds six inches apart in a hanging basket. Mix one tablespoon of granulated fertilize into potting soil prior to planting seeds. Place basket in a sunny location and keep soil moist at all times.
Snip off leaves as desired to use as a food garnish, or chew to freshen breath.
Basil makes an ideal hanging basket plant. This herb will grow quickly to fill in the hanging container to create a lovely, colorful and tasty plant.
Select a hanging basket, liner for the basket, like coir or moss, potting soil and basil seeds.
Place the liner in the basket, then add potting soil to within one inch of the top rim of the basket.
If the potting soil does not contain fertilizer, mix in one tablespoon of granulated fertilizer per basket prior to planting seeds.
Place two seeds in the center of the basket and lightly cover seeds with 1/4 inch of potting soil. After seeds germinate, remove the smallest plant so the one remaining will have plenty of room to grow. Basil will reach a mature size of 12-18 inches, but can be kept pruned to any desired height.
Basil seeds can be planted in spring. Place hanging basket in a sunny location. Leaves can be harvested any time the plant has reached six inches tall. Allow soil to become dry to the touch between watering.
Mint is one of the best hanging basket plants because of its fragrance. There are many varieties of mint, all are fragrant and good for container growing.
Select a hanging basket, liner for the basket, like coir or moss, potting soil and mint seeds.
Place liner, then add potting soil in basket. If the potting soil does not contain fertilizer, mix in one tablespoon of granulated fertilizer per basket prior to planting seeds.
Plant two seeds per planter, and place in a bright location, but not in direct sunlight. Keep potting soil moist at all times. Snip off leaves after herb reaches four inches tall.
This fragrant culinary herb with square branching stems has beautiful oval-shaped hairy leaves that look excellent in hanging baskets.
You can grow it alone or with other herbs to create a hanging herb basket.
Use thermometers and barometers to track the temperature and know when bad weather is approaching. Thermometers should be placed in an area without any direct sunlight for an accurate reading. A barometer is needed to gauge changes in atmospheric pressure, as rapid fluctuation is a sign of unstable weather. Another easy way to note atmospheric pressure is to pay attention to birds. If they’re flying low to the ground, barometric pressure is low. High-flying birds indicate higher barometric pressure.
Keep wind out
Protect young or delicate plants from wind by hammering a few stakes in the ground surrounding them. Then, wrap a burlap barrier around the stakes to create a barrier that should deflect harsh winds. With young trees, wrap the trunks with burlap or commercial tree wrapping to prevent wind damage. These wrappings can be removed after the trees are more mature, or in about a year.
Prevent constant freezing and thawing
The constant freezing and thawing of plants can be as harmful as cold temperatures. Use mulch to limit damage by spreading three inches of mulch on the ground surrounding plants to help maintain a constant temperature. Then, cover with netting, chicken wire, or tree branches to protect from wind. But remember that once a plant has been damaged by frost, it most likely cannot be saved and the smartest move is to simply remove it from your garden. Keep soil healthy when it warms up by learning how to compost.
Remember the east-west line
When planning your garden, remember that the sun rises and sets to the south of the east-west line during wintertime. This will cast long shadows on the north side of your home, reducing sunlight and limiting the types of plants that will thrive in these areas. Additionally, winter light is more subdued to eastern exposures than areas facing south or west.
Shield small plants
If you know bad weather is around the corner and want to protect your small plants, cover them with a plastic bag, cardboard box, upside-down flowerpot, or even a plastic laundry basket to protect them. Whatever covering you choose, make sure to weigh it down with a stone or a brick. Or, drape a thick blanket or quilt over plants before nightfall to trap soil heat and protect plants from light frost. We’ll go ahead and add “blanket” to our list of must-have garden tools!
Consider plant hardiness
For plants that aren’t particularly hardy, plant on the side of the house placing south or southeast. The proximity to the house will protect the plant from severe winter winds and keep it warmer, and the plant will be given sun exposure in the mornings.
Protect early-blooming trees
Prevent damage to early-blooming trees by planting them on the north side of the house or on a north-facing slope. This will delay or lessen light exposure and provide safer, more gradual thawing. Plants that blossom early should also be obscured for direct morning sun, as a gradual thaw will minimize the damage done by frost.
Vines, shrubs, and trees that are found near walls can be protected from cold temperatures with a frost shade. Mount a piece of wood at the top of a fence or wall and use it to hang a piece of canvas or tarp. When temperatures drop, use it to cover plants. Raise the shade when it warms up, then lower it in the late afternoon to conserve heat for the chilly night ahead.
Go against your instincts
Run a sprinkler over delicate plants on cold nights. As the water freezes on the plants, it will give off heat and keep them warmer than the surrounding air. This trick is often used to protect fruit trees to protect crops from unruly weather.
Resist spreading salt
Though you may be tempted to sprinkle salt over walkways and driveways to prevent icy slips, remember that the runoff from spreading salt can damage plants. Instead, use wood ashes, sand, gravel, sawdust, or fertilizer to keep these areas safe.
Just because your yard is short on room doesn’t mean you are limited on planting options. According to our experts, all it takes is a little bit planning to turn your small outdoor space into a major design opportunity. From incorporating a variety of plants to create a more nuanced garden to being intentional with every shrub or bush’s placement, you can easily fake the illusion of a larger area.
Think beyond dwarf plants.
Having a small back yard doesn’t mean that you’re limited to dwarf plants. The same basic design principles you’d use in any yard or garden apply in your miniature space, says Erin Schanen, the creator of The Impatient Gardener. “This means incorporating trees, shrubs, and flowers, but with an eye toward size,” she explains. Just make sure you’re checking the mature height and width of each variety—a tree that grows to 30 feet wide in 10 or 20 years is not a good choice for you. “Consider trees and shrubs with a columnar habit: You’ll get the scale of a larger plant, without taking up a huge amount of space width-wise,” she notes.
Plant with purpose.
Schanen says it’s especially important to limit your plant roster in a small garden: “You are far better off picking just a few plants and mass planting them (in groups of five or more) than to have just a couple of many different varieties.” And texture will play an even more important role here, so look for contrast in form and feature; we like the height and fine texture of a taller grass juxtaposed against something with larger leaves and showy flowers.
Play up shaded spaces.
If you’re limited on space and sunlight, Adrienne R. Roethling, the Director of Curation and Mission Delivery at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden, says to get creative by planting shade-loving flora like Hostas, which come in an array of colors and sizes, with grasses like Hakone grass, Hakonechloa macra, or ferns (we like the Japanese Painted variety). “Plants that have similar textures but different colors than Hosta would be the coral bells, Heuchera,” Roethling adds. In some climates, they can take more shade or stay evergreen in winter, which will give you a garden that stays green year-round.
Incorporate some potted plants.
Utilizing pots and containers in a garden is always a good idea, regardless of its size, explains David Morello, a garden designer and founder of David Morello Garden Enterprises. “There is something wonderful about incorporating a container into a spot like a garden bed where it is least expected,” he says. “Keep your selection simple and group them together to create a focal point. The grouping could be a collection of pots that you collect—each one distinct and beautiful.” Morello says as long as they are cohesive, the containers don’t all have to match: “Being creative is half the fun.”
September is a good time to take cuttings of many plants. Some plants, such as half-hardy perennials or tender shrubs, may not make it through the winter, so by taking cuttings you can ensure that you can enjoy them the following year. Taking cuttings in autumn is also a good way of increase your stock of your favourite plants.
At this time of year, you can take semi-ripe cuttings, from this year’s growth. They are woody at the base and soft at the tip. In autumn, hormone levels are high, so plants should root and grow well. The hard base makes the cuttings less likely to rot.
Both hardy and half-hardy perennial varieties of fuchsia root easily. To produce bushy plants, pinch out the growing tips once rooted, then repeat next spring.
Pink and mauve fuchsia flowers
Variegated forms of hebe, and varieties with bottlebrush-like flower spikes and narrow leaves, are the most tender, so propagate in case of bad weather.
Bottle-brush like spikes of tiny purple hebe flowers
Most lavender varieties hate cold and wet winters, but the fashionable compact varieties recommended for containers and French lavender, Lavandula stoechas, are the most at risk; propagate so you don’t lose them.
Lavender flowers beginning to open
Penstemon plants winter safely outdoors, but they won’t take severe weather. Older plants tend to become woody and run out of steam – so take cuttings as a ‘belt and braces’ precaution.
Trumpet-shaped magenta penstemons
Zonals, regals, miniatures, ivy-leaf and scented-leaf pelargoniums all root reliably in autumn and it’s cheaper easier than replacing unusual collectors’ kinds. Find out how to take pelargonium cuttings.
Pink and white pelargoniums
The kingfisher daisy is a charmer that should be better known, with bright blue daisies that have yellow centres. The scarce variegated form is even better. Take cuttings so you don’t lose your stock.
Blue kingfisher daisies with darker blue lobelia
Not all salvias are fully hardy and some varieties are hard to come by, so taking cuttings is a good way of keeping your plants going from year to year. Give spare cuttings to friends, so you always know where to beg some back from.
Spikes of orange-red flowers of salvia ‘Blaze of Fire’
Aloysia citrodora is brilliant for culinary uses and herbal teas, pot pourri and has a fresh lemon flavour. It’s very tender, so needs overwintering as cuttings on a warm windowsill indoors. Find out how to grow lemon balm and lemon verbena.
Picking a sprig of lemon verbena
Both trailing and upright types of verbena have a low success rate when overwintered in greenhouses. They fare better as rooted cuttings on a windowsill indoors, where it’s warmer.
A close-up of a light-purple verbena flowerhead
A trailing plant, helichrysum is often stiff and ‘leggy’. Take short cuttings in September, then nip out growing tips the following spring. For bushier plants, pinch out for a second time once their sideshoots reach 2.5 – 5cm long.
Silvery buds and tiny, variegated leaves of helichrysum
As summer’s swelter gives way to the crisp, cooler temperatures of fall, your garden begins to change—and so should your task list, since your yard’s needs adjust as the seasons do. While some of your plants may be at the dawn of their growing cycles when autumn hits, others are at the end; these generally need to be cut back to begin their dormant period. Here, two garden experts explain all of key tasks to accomplish in your garden this fall, regardless of what you have growing there.
Cooler weather doesn’t have to be your garden’s curtain call. In some areas (and for some varieties or plants), the blooming has just begun. As a matter of fact, some plants prefer the cooler nights and shorter days that fall brings, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. This is especially true if you want to get your favorite fall annuals, like mums, in the ground; make sure your garden beds are clear of summer’s leftover debris before you plant. And if you’re expecting autumn flowers and foliage, add another another layer of compost, till the earth, and start any seeds that need time to establish well before the first frost.
Fall can also be a great time to plant hardy trees; doing so during this time allows them the chance to form root systems before the next growing season. Plant them now so that they will be ready for spring, says Chad Husby, Ph.D. and Chief Explorer at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. “It is also a good time to plant many hardy bulbs and perennials so that they can have a stronger start the growing season,” he shares.
Protect Less Hardy Plants
If you have plants that are marginally hardy in your area, Husby suggests taking the time this season to protect the more delicate ones. This will give them a better chance of coming back in the springtime, when the weather turns warm again. Herbaceous plants, in particular, need your attention, says Husby: “Layers of mulch or compost can help insulate them,” he adds.
Plants that put on their biggest show during these cooler weeks need to be pruned before new buds begin to form. And you’ll need to act fast. “All-winter blooming shrubs and trees should have been pruned by the fall equinox—September 22—so not to interrupt the blooming cycle,” explains Joel Crippen, the Display Garden Horticulturist with Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County. And for the varieties that are done for now? Cut them all the way back, so they’re ready to go when they reawaken.
Saving seeds from your spring and summer flowers? Make sure you’ve collected them before frost or birds get there first. Just make sure you’re storing them safely, so they will be ready to sprout next spring. “Best to dry and store them in paper envelopes. Put them in a cool, dry location until the late winter-spring sowing time,” explains Crippen. And be mindful of seed type during this process—certain varieties need to be stored under different combinations of temperature, dryness, and humidity levels, says Husby. “Fortunately, when storing seeds for a single season, one need not have ideal conditions,” he says, adding that the most important thing is to have consistent conditions, sans major fluctuations in temperature, humidity, or light. “The best places are consistently cool (not necessarily cold), dry, and dark,” he says. “Refrigerators work well, but cool basements or cellars can, too.”
Nothing looks dreamier than a bedroom full of plants. I love the thought of waking up to a room full of greenery—until I think about all the bugs that could be living among that greenery. It’s impossible to guarantee that your plant will never get pests, but there are some ways to diminish the chances. Jesse Waldman, director of marketing and e-commerce at Pistils Nursery in Portland, Oregon, explains that step one is making sure you’re purchasing a well-cared-for plant.
“When your plants are stressed, they actually can attract pests,” says Waldman. “Poorly cared-for plants, a plant that’s experiencing stress, whether that’s water-stress or light-stress, or just any of those sorts of environmental factors that make your plant happy or unhappy, if it’s stressed out, it’s possible that it will become more likely that it will get a pest.”
If your plant is healthy, you don’t really have to worry about attracting bugs.
Keep in mind that houseplant pests, like mealybugs or aphids, aren’t bugs that you’re going to find crawling around on your pillow. “They’re there for the plants,” he says. Either way, I don’t want them where I sleep.
How to find a healthy plant
If you’re shopping in person, take a good look at a plant before you bring it home. “A little brown spot or a little yellow lower leaf doesn’t really indicate a problem,” he says. But if you’re seeing widespread problems like uncharacteristically pale foliage or spotting patterns on the leaves, that plant could be a stressed-out pest magnet.
“When you pick out that plant that you want, definitely spend some time with it. Look under the leaves. A lot of pests don’t necessarily show up on the tops of leaves, rather on the bottom. So, you want to flip some leaves over. Some pests are quite obvious and can be seen with the naked eye, like mealybugs, white powdery things that hang out typically in the little nooks and crannies of the plant… But some of them, like spider mites, are really, really small and actually quite challenging to see with the naked eye. So with those, you’re going to be looking for webbing on the underside of the leaves.
Plants to shop and others to avoid
No matter how healthy a plant is, some plants are pest magnets.
“For example, there’s [a plant] called alocasia stingray, which is a really cool looking plant, has a really interesting leaf, but spider mites absolutely adore that plant,” says Waldman. Same with hoya compacta, a plant with a curly leaf that’s sometimes called robe hoya. “They’re really cool, but mealybugs love that plant.”
Anecdotally, Waldman says some plants that they hardly see pests on at Pistils Nursery are sansevierias, ZZ plants, and calathea. But every plant has the potential for a pest issue.
New plant routine
Once you get a new plant, you may want to stash somewhere like a bathroom for a few days to allow any critters like spiders or beetles that may have hitched a ride in on the plant to crawl away. It’s also good to keep new plants away from others for a few days in case the plant has pests like mealybugs, spider mites, aphids, or thrips that you missed before bringing it home. To err on the safe side, Waldman says you can give your new plant a preventative anti-pest spray. Waldman recommended two natural options that likely won’t harm the health of your plant.
“You can make yourself an insecticidal soap,” he says. Use a gentle soap like Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap ($14). Hunker reports that you can mix one teaspoon of Dr. Bronner’s soap in 1 quart of hot water in a spray bottle and use that on your plants. Just be sure to first Google and double-check if your plant is sensitive to soap. “Another option would be neem oil ($11). It’s an oil extracted from a nut of a specific tree. It has antimicrobial, antibiotic, and anti-pest killing properties.”
You can also get traps like these Gideal 20-pack yellow sticky traps ($11) which are great at catching flying pests.
If after all of this prep, there is still a chance that your plant could have pests or develop pest issues. In the same way fruit flies randomly appear in your house, pests can turn up in houseplants.
“There are no plant pests that are harmful to humans in any way,” he says. “Mealybugs, spider mites, aphids, thrips, none of these things that are going to bite you or cause you any harm.”
When planning a garden with long-blooming perennials, the same basic rules of design apply; choose a mixture of early, mid-season, and late-flowering plants. Of course, you can also affect both the bloom time and length of the flowering period with pruning practices; pinching, deadheading, and shearing. Read on to discover how to encourage months of blooms by combining clever pruning with the longest flowering perennials.
The Early Bloomers:
Catmint ‘Walker’s Low’ (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, zones 3 to 9). With its relaxed, trouble-free growth habit, ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint is a perfect fit for a cottage garden or rock garden, or the front edge of a perennial border or rose garden. Plus, the plants bloom their heads off from late spring until mid-autumn with a heavy show of purple-blue flower spikes that are extremely attractive to pollinators and beneficial insects. It’s no wonder this drought-tolerant, hardy plant was chosen as the 2007 Perennial Plant of the Year. Once the initial flush of flowers begins to fade, give the plant a haircut, shearing it back by about one-half. Without a trim, the plant will continue to flower moderately, but a good shearing encourages tidy foliage and plenty of blooms that will persist until frost.
Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (Geranium x ‘Rozanne’, zones 4 to 9). I don’t like to throw the term ‘low-maintenance’ around irresponsibility, but with ‘Rozanne’, it’s the perfect description. This hardy plant forms 12 to 18 inch tall mounds of spreading foliage, which is topped from early summer until frost with two-inch wide, violet-blue flowers. After its initial bloom, the plants will continue to pump out a moderate amount of fresh flowers for months. However, if you shear the plants back by one-third after the first blossoms fade, you’ll encourage another heavy show of flowers.
Bleeding Heart ‘Luxuriant’ (Dicentra formosa ‘Luxuriant’, zones 2 to 9). Long-blooming perennials for shady spaces are hard to come by, but this is where ‘Luxuriant’ shines! Growing just knee-high, this hardy selection produces clusters of reddish-pink, heart-shaped blooms throughout late spring and summer. The ferny foliage is also attractive, and makes a nice foil for the old-fashioned flowers. Plant this shade-tolerant perennial in a woodland garden, shady border, or along a tree-lined pathway. Clipping out faded flowers will ensure months of bloom.
Pruning Tip – Don’t be afraid to grab those pruning shears once that initial bloom of spring flowers starts to wind down. Many perennials, like Geranium ‘Rozanne’ will continue to produce flowers all season, but in a lesser quantity. If you want a heavier bloom, shear the plants back by one-third to one-half to push out fresh foliage and flowers.
The Mid-Season Superstars:
Ornamental Onion ‘Millenium’ (Allium ‘Millenium’, zones 5 to 9). The 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year, ‘Millenium’ is a showy selection with grassy foliage and two-inch diameter, rounded flower clusters in a cheerful shade of lavender-purple. The flowers bloom for around six weeks each summer, attracting every bee, butterfly, and beneficial insect for miles around. The one-foot tall and wide clumps are perfect for the front of a perennial border or a rock garden where the ball-shaped blooms can be appreciated. Technically a bulb, this plant is usually sold as a potted perennial and can be planted in spring or fall. Unlike many perennials, pruning doesn’t produce more flowers.
Long-blooming ‘Millennium’ Allium adds a pop of color to mid and late summer garden beds.
Coneflower ‘White Swan’ and ‘Magnus’ (Echinacea purpurea, zones 3 to 9). Coneflowers are the cornerstone of a summer perennial garden, blooming for months, even in dry, hot conditions, and providing food for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. There are countless cultivars available to gardeners, but for months of flowers, it’s hard to beat old school selections like ‘Magnus’ and ‘White Swan’. ‘Magnus’ is a classic purple-flowering coneflower, while ’White Swan’ has large blooms with white petals and orange-copper cones. Both flower from early summer into mid-autumn, especially when deadheaded regularly.
Coreopsis ‘Full Moon’ (Coreopsis x ‘Full Moon’, zones 5 to 9). This eye-catching plant is among the longest flowering perennials with a season that stretches from early summer to early autumn. It’s also the first introduction in the new ‘Big Bang’ series of coreopsis, boasting large, soft yellow flowers that grow up to three-inches across. It also has excellent drought tolerance and is popular with the pollinators. ‘Moonbeam’ is another popular long-flowering coreopsis with pale yellow blooms that are smaller, but no less plentiful than those of ‘Full Moon’. With both cultivars, deadhead flowers as they fade to encourage new buds.
A popular mid-summer bloomer, Moonbeam Coreopsis bears hundreds of small, soft yellow flowers.
Astilbe (Astilbe species, zones 4 to 9). Astilbe stands out among the longest flowering perennials. Besides being super easy to grow, they thrive in both sunny and shaded gardens, and have feathery flowers that offers months of graceful color. And speaking of color, the blooms can be white, lavender, purple, bubblegum, deep pink, apricot, or red, often with bronze or purple foliage as well. The plants form tidy clumps with the flower plumes emerging in early to mid summer and persisting into winter. The plants do appreciate ample moisture and regular watering in dry summers can prolong the blooming period. Outstanding cultivars include ‘Bridal Veil’, ‘Pumila’, and ‘Fanal‘.
The feathery flowers of astilbe are a perfect pick for semi-shaded spaces.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium, zones 3 to 9). A butterfly favorite, yarrow is a robust summer bloomer with pretty, flat-topped flowers that bloom for 6 to 8 weeks. The ferny foliage emerges in early spring and is followed by the two to four-foot tall flower stems in early summer. Yarrow is one of the longest flowering perennials that grows best in full sun with well-drained soil of average fertility; over-fertilizing can cause the stems to flop over. Flower colours can range from soft pastels to rich jewel shades. Deadhead spent flowers by clipping the flower stem back to the main foliage. Top varieties include ‘Moonshine’, which has pale, yellow flowers and ‘Cerise Queen’, a bright cherry-red bee magnet.
Drought-tolerant yarrow thrives in a sunny garden and produces mid to late summer flowers in soft pastel shades or rich, jewel tones.
Pruning Tip – As summer flowers fade, deadhead often, cutting down to a fresh stem or set of leaves. This will push the plants to continue producing more blooms. Small flowered perennials, like ‘Moonbeam’ Coreopsis, can be quickly and easily deadheaded with hedge shears, rather than snipping individual blooms. In late summer, as flowering winds down, stop deadheading to allow some blooms to go to seed. Seedheads provide valuable food for birds and add interest to the winter garden.
Fantastic Fall Flowers:
Black-eyed Susan ‘Goldsturm’ (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, zones 3 to 9). Widely considered to be among the best perennials of all time, ’Goldstrum’ lights up the late summer garden with weeks and weeks of bold color that persists into October. Each coneflower-shaped flower has a raised chocolate-brown center cone that is surrounded by golden petals. The drought-tolerant plants grow about two-feet tall and offer the best visual effect when planted en masse. Deadhead faded flowers to prolong the bloom period.
Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is one of the most popular perennials of all time. The brilliant gold flowers bloom for months and are beloved by pollinators and beneficial insects.
Purple Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’, zones 3 to 9). Maiden grasses add striking form and texture to the perennial border all summer long. By late summer, many cultivars produce soft, feathery plumes that emerge above the narrow foliage. Purple Flame Grass is a medium-sized maiden grass, growing three to four-feet tall with foliage that turns from bright green to fiery reddish-orange in early autumn. The attractive plumes are silvery-white and persist on the plants throughout winter. Plant it in a sunny site with well-drained soil. Pruning is only necessary in early spring when the dried foliage and flower stems from the previous season are cut back before the fresh growth emerges.
Pruning Tip – In late spring, pinch out the tips of late summer and fall blooming perennials like sneezeweed, Joe Pye weed, Russian sage, and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. Pinching will slow flowering and produce bushier growth, which means more flower-bearing stems.
Clean up these 3 perennials in fall for the best start in spring!
Fall garden clean up doesn’t just save you time next spring — it gives plants a fresh, healthy start as soon as the weather gets warmer. Here are three perennials that benefit from being cut back right now. We’ll tell you why it’s a good idea to get rid of old growth and the best way trim them back.
Cut back peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) to keep any fungal diseases, such as peony leaf blotch, from spreading. Gather a handful of stems and cut them off 2 to 3 in. above the soil.
Never compost suspicious-looking or infected plant material. That could spread the problem. Send it away in the trash instead.
Coneflower (Echinacea spp. and hybrids) has seedheads that you can leave standing for winter interest or to feed the birds. But if you don’t want them to reseed and take over the area, cut them back in fall. Snip spent flowers back just below the mound of foliage for a tidy look.
Avoid smothering spring growth by removing large hosta leaves in fall.
Make room for spring growth
Cutting back fading hosta (Hosta spp. and hybrids) foliage in fall helps spring-blooming bulbs and perennials — hosta leaves create a dense mat over the ground, which can deform or prevent new spring growth. Don’t cut the leaves all the way to the ground, though. Instead, leave about 2 to 3 in. of each stem standing to protect the crown during winter.