Sometimes by the end of summer, gardens can look a little tattered. Many of the flowering plants that bloomed so well from May to the beginning of August have gone to seed or have become leggy and fallen over. Perhaps the compost that was applied as mulch in spring has biodegraded and all you see is bare soil and weeds. Luckily, there are tasks you can do to bring your garden back to life again for a beautiful, lush show this fall.
Shearing some of your plants will rejuvenate them and they'll bloom again before our frost season starts here in Sonoma County, which is generally the end of October. The timing of pruning is important. If you wait too long to shear there will not be enough time before frost to create and enjoy flowers again. Lobelia erinus and Erigeron can be sheared back to two to three inches. The spent flower stems of Oregano can be sheared to the ground in order to encourage a nice, green carpet of leaves again. Deadheading (cutting off the spent flowers and their stems) will encourage Osteospermums to keep blooming. Some roses too can be pruned back pretty hard to encourage blooms for Thanksgiving!
Give your shrubs and flowering plants one last application of liquid fertilizer for the season. Also, any of the flowering plants that you shear will perform better when you give them some extra water from the hose, for a few days at least. Trees that may not have received enough water this summer will appreciate a deep soak. Also, use the hose to rinse the dust off of your shrubs. Do this early in the morning so your plants will have time to dry off by evening before fungal spores are active. Rinsing off the top and underside of the leaves of shrubs will also help manage insects like spider mites.
There are darlings of the late summer garden that continue to bloom or are just starting their show now. Hardy Hibiscus has huge pink flowers that start their bloom at the end of August on tall stalks that have pushed all summer. Fuchsias continue their impressive show of ballerina shaped flowers dangling from arching stems. The bright yellow flowers of Rudbeckia with their dramatic black centers. Sedums with their pink or auburn flowers seduce all the bees to land on blossoms the size of dessert plates. The large flowered Clematis vines recover from the heat of summer for one last flowering before the sleep of winter dormancy.
Prepare for winter flowers! By the second or third week in September it's time to plant winter annuals such as Pansies and Iceland Poppies. It's important to get these fabulous winter bloomers in the ground while the soil is still warm from summer. Keep deadheading them and protect them from the 100 degree days we may get in September and October. Some winter bloomers like Cyclamen and Primrose can be planted later and still bloom well.
Giving some attention to your garden now is going to make you so happy in just a few weeks when you see how all your plants respond to your kindness!
Looking up at dozens of pink hanging fuchsias with deep purple centers
Annuals - Only buy summer annuals now if you need quick color for a few weeks. Now is the time to be planning for winter annuals (cool season hardy annuals that bloom all winter). Iceland Poppies and Pansies (buy and install last two weeks of September, protect from full sun on days above 90 degrees). For more about choosing and caring for Pansies watch The Gardening Tutor video Pansies 101.
Perennials- Sedum, Aster, Rudbeckia, Veronica.
Frost Hardy Shrubs - Berberis, Hydrangea quercifolia, Pittosporum, Rosemary.
Yellow Iceland Poppy with orange center and a honey bee hugging the anthers to get pollen
Prune- Finish pruning many blooming plants, such as Veronica, Lobelia, Erigeron and others by the first week of September so they have time to bloom before frost. Watch The Gardening Tutor video on Shearing Plants to Encourage Flowers or Foliage. Prune roses to encourage more blooms before winter. Wisteria-thin out any crowded or overly long stems now to make it easier to cut back flowering stems in winter.
Fertilizing- Apply one last dose of fertilizer for the season to shrubs so the new leaves have time to mature before frost begins at the end of October. Container plants too will appreciate another round of fertilizing (Mary uses Maxsea). Watch The Gardening Tutor video: Two Quick Methods of Fertilizing.
Mulch: Apply a thick layer (at least 3 inches on top of soil) of compost as mulch in planting beds that will have winter annuals growing in them. Also, the veggie garden soil will appreciate some amending with compost and mulching on top with compost too. Veggies such as Spinach and Lettuce love being planted directly into compost. The key is to keep the compost moist, this means more watering when the compost is new because when it's new it is hydro-phobic (repels the water).
Bulbs:Spring flowering bulbs start being sold now. Choose bulbs that are blemish free and heavy for their size.
Tall stemmed, white daffodils with bright yellow centers.