Overwintering and Planting Fall Bloomers
April showers bring May flowers and sometimes fall bloomers become an afterthought. But they shouldn’t be. There are loads of fall blooming plants that can add color, variety and interest to your landscape. And by extending flower-time in your yard, you welcome nectar feeders like hummingbirds and butterflies to a buffet at a time when it will be a welcome oasis during migration. Here are some great choices that you can enjoy now with no worries about the winter ahead.
Annuals give lots of seasonal color. The best varieties for fall are those that love the cold, like pansies, violas, dianthus, snapdragons and stock. They will bloom consistently until the temperatures stay below freezing, and in many parts of the country they will stay alive and bloom again when winter subsides and spring approaches.
Fall annuals do their best when planted in fertile, well-drained soil. Use a fertilizer formulated for cool weather application, often marketed specifically for use on pansies. Plant as soon as the soil cools to allow young plants to become established before the deep freeze sets in. Mulch well to retain soil warmth and constant moisture. Annuals are best used in key landscape focal points like around the mailbox, near walkways, at the front door and around the patio. In places where winters are relatively mild, fall annuals perform extremely well in containers.
Perennials are a permanent part of the landscape, and provide a constant flow of changing visual focus and features throughout the year. Most perennials have a more limited bloom time than annuals, and so the best effect is had by planting groupings of different plants that all bloom at slightly different times.
There are lots of great perennials for fall blooms: ornamental grasses, stonecrops, asters, chrysanthemums, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, turtlehead, joe pye weed, goldenrod, false sunflower, sneezeweed and toadlily to name just a few. Provide them with well worked soil and mulch them well. Fertilize once or twice a year. When they have finished blooming, let them go dormant before cutting back the brown tops.
Shrubs can sometimes get lost in the clamor for beautiful fall color. Annuals and perennials have bright showy flowers, trees get all of the credit for leaf color. There are shrubs, though, that deserve consideration for their flowers. Some great fall blooming shrubs include Camellia sasanqua, Fatsia japonica, fragrant tea olive, elaeagnus, confederate rose hibiscus, blue mist caryopteris, common witch hazel, abelia, repeat blooming hydrangea and azalea varieties and shrub roses.
Good planting technique is a major key to success with shrubs. Dig the hole twice to three-times the width of the root ball, and not quite as deep as the height of the root ball. Amend heavy or sandy soils with organic soil conditioner to improve the texture and moisture drainage/retention balance. Mulch well and fertilize once or twice a year. Prune fall bloomers in spring if needed.
There are even a couple of fall blooming trees that deserve a bit of recognition. The best of these is Autumnalis cherry which blooms in both spring and fall. Crape myrtles often finish their bloom cycle in early to mid fall as well. Plant and care for trees and shrubs similarly.
When fall comes, enjoy the foliage but don’t forget the flowers. Add a few fall flowering annuals, perennials and woody plants to maximize your gardening enjoyment.