My Fall Garden Secret
So many gardens lose steam by the end of August. Annuals are tired, leggy, or dead. Plant catalogues swear that certain perennials will “bloom until frost,” but they usually quit when kids go back to school. It’s almost as if winter starts after Labor Day. The nurseries have huge mums, but even those only last a couple of weeks and everyone assumes that the only fall color comes from turning leaves.
What if I told you that there was a gardening secret that could keep your garden looking vibrant until the first frost? This ingredient keeps late summer perennials blooming, foliage fresh, dahlias in constant bud, and everything lush and beautiful. You don’t have to be content with twigs and struggling mums and everything will keep growing until the days are really short and the ground becomes a refrigerator.
Look at these photos I took this fine September morning!
The secret ingredient that will keep your garden going strong long after everyone else’s has called it a season is water! Most people stop watering their garden in August - don't be one of them! Watering is a chore and even though our Augusts are a humid desert, people ignore it. I think that everyone just assumes that it’s over for the season so there is no point in putting in the effort. The garden starts going dormant around then, but it’s not because of the impending fall - the weather and ground are still warm and the days are still longer than the night. The garden went to sleep because it was too thirsty and it gave up hope. Instead of trying to keep the energy pumping, it stores what it has and goes to sleep until it senses spring moisture.
Right now in my garden I have tons of blooms. My hardy hibiscus are ready to flash a new crop of 6” flowers, reblooming roses have their soft yellow flowers, nasturtium are popping up everywhere, and my exhausted snap dragons have refreshed. Phlox and balloon flowers are popping up and persicaria is continuing its incredibly long bloom cycle. The foliage plants still look like a William Morris print, whether they are tiny ajuga or enormous oak leaf hydrangea. The tropical plants haven’t figured out that they are in a temperate zone, and verbena b. create a purple haze over huge areas.
These gorgeous plants are just background players to the incredible fall blooming plants. Sedum, Japanese anemone, hardy ageratum, toad lilies, hosta (most have beautiful flowers if you keep them watered), and the asters and mums have barely started (mine are perennial - it’s much less work and much less money than planting dozens of pot bound disposables.)
Dahlias - you know you want them. They are at their best in fall, and they certainly aren’t worth the trouble unless you keep them happy until the cold makes them refuse to bloom.
So go out and water! You should have been doing it for the past several weeks! Right now the ground is incredibly dry and there is no rain in the forecast. It’s chilly, but your plants still need water. I find it irritating that most irrigation systems are only watering the boring lawn (which absolutely needs water, too). Set up the sprinkler, put a plastic container nearby and run it until the container has an inch of water in it (way longer than you think). Then dig up a portion of the watered area to make sure the water penetrated the ground enough. You hydrangeas will perk up, the ground covers will actually cover, and fading leaves will stop fading (they won’t reverse, sorry). Soak your containers (think five gallons, not one), and if you buy pots of mums and asters, they have compressed root systems and their dense leaves basically pump moisture out of their containers, so they need more water than you ever thought possible.
You will thank me when you are picking dahlias for Halloween.