Writing an article for publication usually means submitting the article, sometimes months, before the public might actually read it. When writing a garden column, the challenge is to find a topic that is appropriate when the paper hits the streets. So, I’m sitting here in the middle of what has been a long, hot summer trying to inspire you to get out in the garden or at least to begin thinking about it. After all, fall is just a little ways down the road with its wonderful weather and gardening will again be a joy and a pleasure.
The other great thing about fall besides the weather and football is something that landscape professionals and serious gardeners already know: fall is absolutely the best time to plant.
Almost all perennials, shrubs and trees benefit greatly from fall planting meaning October through December. This is because the earth retains heat longer than the atmosphere and soil temperatures remain relatively high until winter really sets in. Plants going into the ground in the fall have time for roots to penetrate the surrounding soil and begin taking up water and nutrients.
Plants become established and will have a big head start when spring breaks. As air temperatures decline, the plant uses less water and by November, watering can be discontinued until spring.
Do be aware that a prolonged winter drought coupled with very low temperatures can make supplemental winter-watering a good idea for new plantings. A bit of work in the fall will bring great rewards in the spring. With the big task of planting done, you can take a little time in the spring and enjoy the fruits of your fall efforts.
I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting plants and one that captured my attention this summer and really needs to be planted this fall is a new variety of Red Hot Poker, Kniphofia ‘Echo Mango’. This plant comes by its common name honestly because the flower is conical with a vivid orange-red bloom on a long stem resembling a poker that’s been heating in the embers of a fire.
Kniphofia is a neat, very unusual plant that is useful as a specimen or back of the border plant in the garden and also wonderful for flower arrangements. Older varieties of Kniphofia only bloom two or three weeks in mid-summer but ‘Echo Mango’ has changed all of this. It is one of a series developed by local nurseryman Richard Saul of Saul Brother Nurseries and will re-bloom continually from mid-summer to frost, hence the name “Echo”. ‘Echo Mango’ is a beautiful shade of peach and other colors will soon be available. Give ‘Echo Mango’ plenty of sun and rich, well-drained soil and, once established, it will become a drought-tolerant fixture in your garden.
Another plant that impressed me this summer is Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’. Gaillardia (common name blanket flower) has been available to gardeners for a long time and there are a number of species native to various parts of the country. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through the dunes to the beach on Tybee Island and saw a great stand of Gaillardia growing in the sand, in full sun, and blooming like crazy. Obviously, this plant likes it hot and sunny along with soil that is well-drained and infertile. For all you folks with beach houses, it’s also very salt tolerant, something rare among cultivated plants. It’s not very often that one gets to see a plant in such extreme conditions. In your garden, this obviously means full sun and very well-drained soil without a lot of organic matter (think plenty of sand) and be careful not to overwater.
In Atlanta, Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’ should be treated like an annual and planted in spring because it may not survive the winter. You may say, “Why bother with a plant that’s finicky and has to be planted every year?” Keep reading. This plant has beautiful daisy-like yellow flowers with hints of orange in the petals and seed heads. Blooms are about 1.5 inches across and the plant will bloom profusely from late spring until frost, especially if you deadhead. This is not the same thing as being a Deadhead.
Deadheading refers to the removal of the spent flower blooms after the petals get unsightly or drop from the seed head. This will stimulate a new round of blooms and is often effective in a wide variety of flowering herbaceous plants (herb-like as opposed to woody stemmed plants). Actually, the seed heads of this plant are attractive and can be used in flower arrangements. The plant is 18-24 inches tall and, when planted in your garden, will be a steady bloomer providing continuous color. Believe me, you will like ‘Oranges and Lemons’.
When I need information about plants I’m interested in or if I’m trying to understand the “how-to’s” of successfully growing a particular plant, I often talk to other gardeners and landscape professionals. Their observations and experiences provide invaluable information. You will find these people (also your local garden center employees) more than willing to answer any questions you may have. I’ve also come to frequently use the internet to start my research or to help verify information I’ve received from other sources. It’s not a be-all-end-all but a powerful and useful tool.
Next time you’re on the computer, here are a couple of plants for you to Google while enjoying the air-conditioned comfort of your home. Helenium (most any variety) and Ruella Brittoniana ‘Purple Shower’ are hardy perennials that can be planted in the fall and will knock your socks off by mid-summer. These two varieties also attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. What could be better?