Color in the Late Season Garden

Has the color in your late-season garden been the lackluster side? It seems the toughest time to keep the color going is after the daylilies are finished blooming, or some time in early August. For suggestions on how to keep the color coming on, please see the plant recommendations and source links in my SlideShare presentation on Providing Color in the Late Season Garden.

Late Season Garden Visitors

Hawk moth checking out the Phlox
Just a little less shy than the hummingbirds in my garden are the hawk moths. Actually, along with butterflies, these huge moths have been scarce this year. The hawk moth larvae feeds on sweet potatoes, so I imagine this is the adult form of a resident in my Pamela Crawford planter.

This much-used annual vine tends to take over any area in which it's planted, so I truly don't mind the hawk moth larval feeding. This little hummingbird impersonator has its enemies in the farmers who try to grow sweet potatoes as a crop, however.

My Pamela Crawford Planter with Ipomoea batatas, or ornamental sweet potato
DEAR DIARY- DAY ONE: "I'm so good at camouflage, I'm virtually invisible." 
I was surprised by another visitor, this time in the large planter on my patio. A bright green tree frog sat motionless on the stem of Colocasia 'Mojito'. These little guys are always fun to photograph, especially when they aren't in any hurry to go anywhere.
In fact, when I looked for him the next day, he was still on the same stem, but facing the other direction!
DAY TWO: "My dinner will never know I'm here."
Monarch feeds on Gomphrena 'Fireworks'
I spotted probably what was my third Monarch butterfly all season at my local garden center. As I stood looking at the sad plight of overgrown pots of Gomphrena 'Fireworks', I noticed a Monarch butterfly flitting about sipping nectar, probably in preparation for its upcoming journey. Gomphrena, or globe amaranth, is a popular nectar source for Monarch butterflies.

September Color Depends on June and July

If I'd planted Thunbergia alata seeds in June, they'd be blooming now.
 Remember how perky your plants looked in June? So fresh and full of hope? You were filled with anticipation, leaping out of bed each morning to see what was happening in the garden. And then August arrives. It’s hot, humid, the mosquitoes are biting you while humongous grasshoppers are chomping on your plants. In short, it’s not looking that good in August despite your best efforts.

Keeping your garden going through the end of the season requires a bit of planning. For instance, in July, you should be:

  • cutting back spring and early-summer bloomers like geranium and salvia (basically anything that is finished blooming by July 4)
  • giving mums and asters their final pinch
  • topdressing containers with some time-release food
  • continuing to feed with half strength water soluble fertilizer every other time you water
  • deadheading your roses and the annuals that need it
  • trimming back damaged leaves
  • pinching Coleus and other foliage plants.
On a crisp day in July (the plants were crisp, not the air), I forced myself to brutally lop off the spent blossoms of Hydrangea serrata. They had been providing some color, sure, but it wasn't a fresh color if you know what I mean. Because I overlooked their awkwardly topless demeanor for a month while they recovered, I now have a fresh flush of green to accent the flowers of adjacent late bloomers.
Other plants that benefit from a severe stem cut are perennial Geranium and Salvia. Perennial Salvia, (i.e. 'May Night',  'Caradonna', 'East Friesland') which offers spiky blue blossoms in May, can be coaxed into a late summer flush of color by pruning it half way down after most of the blooms are gone, usually in mid-June.

Geranium 'Rozanne' and Salvia nemerosa both look fresh in September after being cut back by the end of June-early July.
French marigolds are easy to start from seed
I don't have Marigolds this year because I didn't plant them. But I miss their bright, shiny faces, so I'll be putting a reminder on my calendar for early June, 2014 so that I'll have them from August through October.

Tomato, Tow-mah-toe: The Goods on Grafted Plants

I wish I had a food scale because I've been harvesting some of the biggest tomatoes I've ever grown. They are an heirloom variety called 'Pineapple', said to bear fruit up to 2 lbs.

But I wouldn't be growing a tomato for its sheer size. This one tastes wonderful! It's on the sweet side, with enough of an acidity to know you're eating a tomato. And it's meaty as well, with fewer seeds and juice and more meat to it.

Tomato Pineapple - quite a handful!
Did I mention that this particular tomato plant is grafted? Grafted tomatoes are getting a lot of attention these days, and for good reason. From my experience, compared with non-grafted plants, or those grown on their own roots, there is no comparison. This is my second year growing grafted plants, and although I haven't undertaken any scientific data collection, the grafted plants are definitely more productive than those grown on their own roots.

I saw a few grafted tomato trials at C. Raker in August, and it seemed as though the grafted and non-grafted plants were pretty much neck and neck in size and vigor. If you're interested in their ratings, check out their tomato data.

Tomatoes 'Sun Gold' and 'Sweet Million'
This year I am also growing two cherry-sized tomatoes grafted onto one rootstock, and I can no longer see the fence they are trained to grow on. Since mid-August, I have been able to harvest a small bowl of tomatoes every two or three days from the one plant. I don't know how that yield compares with own-root tomatoes of the same variety, but these guys are growing in a spot that receives no more than four hours of direct sun per day.

But back to the Pineapple--I can say with certainty that I have never harvested as many tomatoes before in my sun-challenged garden. Pineapple is planted in a slightly sunnier spot, receiving around six hours of sun. Another advantage to growing grafted tomatoes is that the rootstock is disease resistant, something most heirlooms are not. This year I haven't had any problems with either plant. Throughout the drought, I've given them supplemental water with a water soluble fertilizer mixed at half the recommended rate. I also added a time release fertilizer around the plants when I planted them.

Pineapple tomatoes sliced and placed on top of sandwich thins.
Try slicing Pineapple tomatoes onto Brownberry Sandwich Thins that have been spread with a light layer of garlic butter. Sprinkle them with basil and Parmesan cheese and pop them in the oven until nice and bubbly and brown and you will remember why you grow tomatoes in the first place.

Now THAT's a tomato!

Annuals and Tropicals Rule the Fall Garden

Happy Garden Bloggers Bloom Day! I'm very happy to participate in this community of gardeners who blog, which was the brainstorm of Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens. The purpose of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is to see what other gardeners throughout the world have going on in their own gardens on the 15th of each month. And here is what I will share on this first nearly-fall day in September, 2013:

Pentas, Geranium, Salvia, Cleome, Coleus and Colocasia make a colorful statement in this huge planter.
The humongous planter I put together in July with sale plants purchased from Chesterton Feed & Garden Center on July 5 has metamorphosed into its late summer configuration. When I first put it together, I worried about the Salvia having to compete with Colocasia 'Mojito' and not having enough room to grow. I needn't have worried. The Cleome 'Seniorita Rosalita' hasn't slowed down, the Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' is still going strong and, just recently, the Pentas has really begun to flourish.  I'm not sure which variety it is, but it's one of the taller ones of either the "New Look" or "Butterfly" series, growing around 12" - 18" tall. This is a plant I have more luck with if I remove the spent blossoms. The reward for this extra step is the visitation of hummingbirds. And in order to make this pot irresistible to all kinds of winged wildlife, I've included the Salvia and Cleome mentioned above.

Pachystachys lutea
Meanwhile, in a pot around the corner, another tropical plant is holding court with Pennisetum 'Cherry Sparkler' and Bougainvillea 'Flame'. Pachystachys lutea took awhile to really take off, but I think our recent heat wave lit a fire under it. Also known as lollipop or golden shrimp plant, this shrubby sub-tropical plant features brightly-colored bracts from which little white flowers emerge.
You could bring your tropical plants inside if you have the space and the patience to deal with dropping leaves and insects. Some react better to indoor winter culture than others. The easiest for me by far has been Murraya paniculata, also known as orange jessamine. In the same family (Rutaceae) as citrus, Murraya paniculata has flowers with the scent of orange blossom. Our potted plant, which is several years old, gives us many flushes of bloom throughout the season. I feed it with about half the recommended amount of a water soluble acid-lovers fertilizer about once a week, but I also sprinkle the top of the soil with an all-purpose time-release plant food at the beginning of the season.

Unknown yet mature Bougainvillea
Yet to bloom are the Bougainvillea 'Flame' and a Hedychium coranarium, or ginger that has been with me for several years. Another Bougainvillea that has been with us for a long time is having the best bloom season it's ever had.

Heat Brings Out the Best in Salvias

Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' is nearly five feet tall.
In the blink of an eye, it seems, the garden goes from snowdrops to salvia. We look out our windows at the bare ground craving green, and the next thing we know the paths are obliterated by the heavy stems of hydrangea and five-foot tall Anemone. What happens in between is called summer, and that's nearly over. But there is another month or even more to enjoy the bounteous show.

Salvia give up their blooms in earnest, vying with Asters for exuberance. Their colors and forms range from tall and rangy to squat and congested.

Salvia koyamae

Japanese yellow sage, or Salvia koyamae, really holds back on its blooms, today still sprouting one blossom at a time before its stems stretch above the huge, dense, hairy foliage. This sage thrives in shade, and I'll be dividing it and moving it around in the spring. When I get a new plant I'm not sure about I put it in a spot where it can be eradicated if necessary. With Salvia koyamae, it won't be.

This plant took a season to become established, but now it's boasting several of flower stems and looks like a keeper.

Salvia coccinea is one of those great "see through" plants that provide dots of great color and flowers for hummingbirds.
Way back when, I discovered Salvia 'Coral Nymph', a plant that needs to be planted enmasse, or at least in groups. I'd at first found the plant in garden centers, but then discovered how easy it is to grow from seed, which I found at Renee's Garden Seeds. But this Salvia reseeds sporadically for me, and it's always a treat when it does. One thing I like about this species is that its leaves are fragrant--not a sagey scent, but a sweet scent that's almost fruity. Combine that with the fact that my hummingbirds love them, and it's hard to consider a season without these beauties.

Compact Versions of XL Plants Allow Room for More

Anemone 'Pretty Lady Emily' is under two feet tall.
No matter whether you have acres or square inches to plant, your garden can always use plants that take up less space than their predecessors. For example, I probably will never completely remove the vigorous varieties of Japanese Anemone. By late summer, the garden cries out for color and freshness, and Anemones are stalwart saviors. These lovely harbingers of crisp fall days have to be strong enough to elbow their way through the bulky bastions of summer. In my garden, they draw attention to the faded foliage of Amsonia just before it turns to gold. Anemone 'Pretty Lady Emily' won't be holding its own with Amsonia or even Actaea, but it will make a great companion for Heuchera, especially varieties with dark leaves. The blooms of this variety are just as large as the standard varieties, but open on stems that reach up to just 18 inches.

Even though the Aster no longer officially goes by that name, Symphyotrichum 'Tiny Tot', which I purchased from Sequim Rare Plants, is a dwarf New York Aster with some serious "blue-ness" going for it. Even though I'd just planted it in early June, it's rewarded me with lots of early blooms on stems reaching less than a foot tall. 'Tiny Tot' is a nice plant for edging, and though it's not tall enough to cover the bare legs of the taller asters, it is great at the base of roses.