Category Archives: Fall Interest

what’s in bloom in fall

Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’

Bush clover in blossom waves
without spilling
a drop of dew
—- Matsuo Basho

If you had to choose one plant to fill your late summer garden, you might consider the lovely Japanese Bush Clover, Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’. This selection was discovered by the accomplished plantsman, Bill Frederick, at Gibraltar, one of the duPont family estates in Wilmington, Delaware.  We have to admit ‘Gibraltar’ is a big show-off, quickly growing to 5-6′ tall and in just a few years occupying an 8-10 sq. ft. area quite easily. It loves a sunny spot and is hardy in zones 5-9.

 Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’ is in the legume family, and this means it does not require a rich soil, but prefers one that is a lean and well drained. To manage its size and form, you should cut the woody stalks hard to the ground in early spring. This may seem alarming at first, but Bush Clover blooms on new growth and  the full height will be attained by mid summer. A bevy of cascading branches adorned by an abundance of purple pink pea blossoms will add eye catching color from late August through September.

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Planting Containers for Late Summer into Autumn

Late Summer Planter

As the end of August approaches, summer containers may be in need of renewal. Save the fall mums and pumpkins for October and November. There are dozens of cool season container plants, including small shrubs, perennials as well as “fall annuals” that will put on a show for the next 6-8 weeks, at least.

A few tips about late season plantings: If your original planting included strong foliage plants that are still looking fine, leave them and pull out the sad looking offenders. Add some fresh soil in the pockets. Select some new plant material to replenish the bare spots. If starting a new combination, consider this. Plant growth is slowing down, due to fewer hours of daylight, so plant more densely than you would in early summer. Give a feeding or 2 of Dynagro, or other liquid fertilizer.

Here’s an example of great late season ensemble. This combination has been a favorite for years, and works well in an 18-20″ pot. For height we?ve used Purple Fountain Grass Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, and added a pair of Cuphea ‘David Verity’, a hummingbird magnet, with its tubular orange flowers and handsome foliage that takes on burgundy tones in cool temperatures. A robust Heuchera ‘Caramel’ adds weight, a dark leaved ornamental pepper adds fun, and ‘Dreamsicle’ Calibrachoa cascades over the pots for dramatic effect.

Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’

Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ just beginning to bloom

Plectranthus is a large genus from South Africa, related to Coleus. This selection, ‘Mona Lavender’, was bred at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town, S Africa in the 1990’s and was introduced into the US market by Ball Horticultural. Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ is a stunning plant bearing dark green foliage with eggplant purple undersides. She teases you with an occasional bloom in summer months, but we have found here in southern New England that it is not until  late August when the real display begins. Multitudes of lavender throated flowers are held in upright spires providing a show that continues right until frost.

Grow Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ in rich soil in sun or partial shade. Plants branch quickly when pinched, and this encourages a compact form. ‘Mona Lavender’ generally reach 18-24″ for us, but may get 2-3′ in a climate with a longer growing season. (Customers in Florida wholeheartedly give this plant a thumb’s up). We love using her in containers where her dark foliage adds contrast, and surprise from the late flush of blossoms. Alas she is only hardy to 35 degrees, so when frost is predicted, you may want to bring ‘Mona Lavender’ indoors. She might be very happy spending the winer on your sunny window sill.

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Plectranthus ciliatus

You might pass by this plant and think, hmm…that’s an interesting Coleus with its old gold/khaki colored leaves. Turn the leaf over and note the purple coloring. It is in fact a member of the Labiatae (mint) family which of course means it related to Coleus (Solenostemon). Its claim to fame in our book, besides its attractive foliage, is the especially striking flower display presented in late summer and early fall.

Plectranthus ciliatus is native to forested areas of southern Africa, is hardy to about 35 degrees F and can tolerate quite a bit of shade. It can grow 2′ tall, but it has lax stems that will root along if planted in open ground. We suggest that you should offer it at least a few of hours of sun, since the sunlight will induce an abundance of spires of large lavender pink flowers on the decumbent stems in late September through October.

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Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’

There are many forms of Fountain Grass out there, including some lovely selections that are only hardy in warm climates, such as P. setaceum and advena cultivars. One that we’ve been charmed by is this selection of Oriental Fountain Grass, Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’ . ‘Karley Rose’ begins sending forth it’s soft fuzzy plumes in June and carries on through October… that’s 5 months. ‘Karley Rose’, pretty enough for pots, is splendid planted in drifts, where it will dazzle and dance in the late day light.

‘Karley Rose’ forms clumps of slender green foliage which are about 2′ tall and wide.  3-4′ stalks bear smoky mauve pink plumes very early in the season. Horticultural literature states it is hardy in zones 6-9, but a number of our customers reported no losses in zone 5.  Give her a spot in full  sun, (sheprobably can take a little shade) and a soil that has good drainage. Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’ is a star candidate for xeriscaping, and would be great partnere dwith Euphorbia Helena’s Blush’, Sedum ‘Maestro’  and Calamintha nepetoides.

Cuphea ‘David Verity’

Cuphea David VerityWant a colorful plant that blooms nonstop, attracts hummingbirds and never needs deadheading?  Cuphea ‘David Verity’ , a selection of Cigar Plant, is a strong candidate. His charm can?t be captured in photographs, but that hasn?t stopped us from offering this cutting grown Cuphea for over a decade. Customers who have grown him once now can’t be without him.

Cuphea ‘David Verity’ grows to 18-24″ tall in a season, and likes an average to moist soil. He produces an endless supply of tubular orange flowers which keep the hummers busy. When temperatures get cool in late summer the foliage takes on a burgundy cast. The show carries on into the fall until a frost signals the season is over. We’ve combined ‘David’ in planters with Colocasia , Heuchera ‘Carameland dark leaved Ipomoea ‘Carolina Purple’ but many more combinations are possible. ‘David Verity’ provides constant color in the mixed border?…try him with dark leaved Heuchera villosa ‘Mocha’ and a hot colored cone flower such as ‘Tomato Soup’.

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Viburnum plicatum ‘Summer Snowflake’

Viburnum 'Summer Snowflake'There are many good Viburnum selections on the market, but this cultivar of Double File Viburnum  gets high marks from us. It is laden with white lacecap blossoms in early June, like all the rest, but this particular form continues to produce blossoms on new growth all summer into fall. It is especially striking in autumn, when the white blossoms are set off  by foliage that takes on wine tones.

Early info about the size of this plant reaching only 4-6′ was inaccurate. In our garden our specimen quickly reached 8′ tall, and as much in width. We’ve pruned our ‘Summer Snowflake’ to have a single leader with a more open habit. Plant ‘Summer Snowflake’ in good well drained soil where it will receive 6-8 jours of sun.  Birds love take cover in it’s branches. Deer find them unappealing for the most part.

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Sedum reflexum ‘Angelina’

Sedum reflexum 'Angelina'You can’t help but admire little ‘Angelina’. The retreating snow has exposed this brave low evergreen Sedum, and she shows no sign of being distressed. Fall/winter temperatures have brought out a copper/amber hue to the usually lime green needled foliage, and this is a shade that adds a welcome warm color to the chilly landscape. As daytime temperatures rise in April and May, the amber shade transforms to a cool yellow green, which is a more appropriate color for early spring. Starry yellow flowers form at the tips of trailing stems in early summer, but cute as they are, the blossoms are not what this little plant is all about.

Besides being ornamental year round, Sedum ‘Angelina is extremely hardy (to zone 3) and adaptable to full sun or part shade. She is happiest growing in well drained soil, and will form a lovely carpet to contrast with deeper toned plants, such as darker leaved Sedum ‘Xenox ‘or Heuchera ‘Obisidion’. She also acts as a nice foil for early bulbs such as Crocus and Dwarf Iris. Foliage height stays at about 4″. The only maintenance chore to speak of is a routine shearing back after she blooms in mid summer. You’ll be cutting off the not so attractive spent flowers and encouraging a new round of fresh foliage.

One more thing. Sedum ‘Angelina’ makes a lovely foliage accent plant for year round containers. Plant her with other drought tolerant foliage plants for a lasting and easy care combination.

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Ilex verticillata

December is the perfect month to enjoy this eyecatching deciduous holly whose brilliant berries, clustered on bare branches, provide splashes of color to the early winter landscape. Commonly called Winterberry, this North American native is found in the wild from Nova Scotia to Florida, usually growing in low lying areas, since it doesn?t mind wet feet. It is nonetheless adaptable to many soil types and will be happy enough in dryer locations. A large number of clones have been selected for their eventual stature, as well as for variation in fruit color and size.

As you probably know, the genus Ilex is dioecious, meaning there are different male and female flowering plants, and they have to tango for fruit set. Take note that there are earlier and later flowering selections of Ilex verticillata and it is a good idea to plant a male counterpart that blooms at the same time as the female clone.  Some of the earlier blooming female clones such as ‘Red Sprite’, ‘Berry Heavy’ and ‘Berry Nice’ should be pollinated with the male clone ‘Jim Dandy’. Use ‘Southern Gentleman?’, a late-blooming male pollinator for ‘Winter Red’, ‘Winter Gold’, ‘Capacon’, ‘Sparkleberry’ and the other later blooming girls.

Ilex verticillata waits until fall to become a star when the berries begin to color, so it is best sited in a spot where it does not have to be commanding all season long. Remember Winterberry does sucker, but this can be useful where you want to create a screen to attract wildlife. A number of years ago, we used it in repetition behind one of our beds that borders a wet area, and the planting now provides us with a bounty of branches for cutting.  Eventual plant size is dependent on which cultivars you select, and they range from 3-4′ to 12′ or more. Plants enjoy sunny or partially shaded exposures, soil that is acid to neutral, and are hardy through zone 4.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Arctic Sun’

Cornus s. 'Arctic Sun'You won’t pay much attention to Blood Twig Dogwood in spring and summer. The ordinary green foliage is attractive enough, but it does not sing “Here I am!”. It’s not until autumn, when Cornus sanguinea ‘Arctic Sun’ starts to make music in clear apricot tones with the changing fall foliage. Colder temperatures transform its green branches into stalks of vibrant yellow, orange and red which glow in an otherwise increasingly dull landscape.

‘Arctic Sun’ (a.k.a. Cornus sanguinea ‘Cato’) is a compact clone of Blood Twig Dogwood, reaching only 4-5′ tall as opposed to 8-10′, and this size is useful in smaller gardens. It thrives in average to moist soil in full sun or part shade, is deer resistant, and is hardy in zones 4-7, which means it will take temperatures to minus 30F, but probably won?t be happy in mild winter climates. We recommend planting ‘Arctic Sun’ in a location so that the dazzling winter stems can be viewed from an inside perch, perhaps where you sit with your morning coffee, or where you might pass by as you enter and leave your home. You’ll enjoy the show all winter, and may even be inspired to cut a few branches for decoration.

One thing you should note is that the best color on twig dogwoods is displayed on young wood. Every two or three years you should “stool” yours plants in early-mid spring. Stooling is a simple pruning technique where you cut back the entire shrub to about 6′ above ground. The new growth will provide a more colorful display when late fall and winter arrives.