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Fall- Into Planting?

Fall into GardeningAnne Jaeger


So spring was too wet, the summer was too hot and the weather too dry. This month we have no more excuses. If you think gardening is finished in September around here, welcome to the “show me state” because fall is the best time for planting perennials, trees and shrubs. A few strokes of the trowel now saves time next spring. Why? From my own experience, if I wait until spring, I can’t remember where the vacancies are. You know, those bare spots which are so obvious at this time of year, but fade into distant memory when life takes priority. Oh, sure I always “think” I’ll remember the exact spots. Never do. One slice of the shovel and Whoops! You’ve sliced the roots of another plant clean through. That’s why I like to think of fall planting as “No time like the present” planting.

But wait! There’s more! If you plant now, Mother Nature will water it for the next 8 months. Remember new plants do need supplemental water until the monsoon comes. In the meantime, you give plants a little drink to tide them over.

Here’s the long and short of it. Anything you plant now, will save you time in the spring. The plants will have time to put down deep roots without bothering to put energy into flowering or growing new leaves. Consequently, the plants will be bigger and healthier than in the spring. Bigger and healthier means more blooms. And we love that. I mean, otherwise, why bother gardening if we don’t get the bang for our buck? Next spring you can put your energy into planting the fair weather annuals which only live until the first frost.

Alright, I’ve made my case about the benefits of falling into gardening in September. Now, whattaya plant?  Suzy Hancock of Portland Nursery has excellent taste in plants. She knows them upside down and inside out. Like most plant people, she hear shoppers lament at this time of year, saying their gardens are drained of color “Everything is brown.” Get those people into the nursery for 15 seconds and their cart is full of color. Hancock’s suggestions are all about color; either in flowers or leaves. “I love Japanese maples in the fall; I think ‘Shishigashira’ might be my absolute favorite. Its leaves are that deep fiery red.” Since most of us aren’t as fluent in Japanese as we might like…this tree is commonly called “Lion’s Head Japanese maple.” The non-profit plant selection committee called “Great Plant Picks” describes the Lion’s Head this way “this slow, upright grower is a popular and striking cultivar. Dense tufts of crinkled deep green foliage…look somewhat like the mane of a lion.” Green leaves turn to yellow then to red orange in fall. One cool looking tree I must say.

I like the Coral bark maple called ‘Sango Kaku.’ This Japanese maple is also a compact plant reaching 20 feet high and 15 feet wide eventually. But it’s bright green leaves pop out with a wisp of red, then turn yellow, gold, apricot and red in fall. If that weren’t enough, when the leaves finally call off, the branches are a bright, bright red. Good container plant for the deck, too.

Most experts also love Stewartia trees, although these trees don’t get the respect they deserve with the general public. Let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to understand a tree’s “4 seasons of beauty” when you’re seeing it for a half hour in the garden center. Hancock suggests the Japanese Stewartia, with flowers 2 inches wide in summer and bright orange-red leaves in the fall. Stewartia looks a lot like a camellia plant, (guess that’s why the botanical name is ‘pseudocamellia’ but these trees are far superior. Here are just a few of its attributes; flowers, great red leaves in fall and the grayish bark peels off in winter to reveal a warm cinnamon color underneath. The tree tops out at 25 feet in 20 years. Just beautiful.

Let’s not forget some great perennials for fall planting. Portland Nursery suggests a great new aster called ‘Lady in Black’ which looks far different than the aster’s I’ve seen. Hancock says “it has the most amazing purple foliage covered in little white flowers with tiny pink centers. This plant is just full of flowers from August on.” Or if you like contrast, Hancock suggests the new Meadow bright series of coneflowers on the market. Coneflowers aren’t just purple anymore. The new varieties are true clear oranges and sunny yellows. Just like their purple cousins, the Meadowbright coneflowers sport 8” wide daisy like flowers with a dark cone center. It used to be hard to find ‘Mango Meadowbright’ ‘Art’s Pride’ ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset.’ Not anymore.

There’s one more flowering plant that’s been looking fabulous in my garden since July. A phlox called ‘David’ with big tufts of white flowers like big scoops of ice cream on top. It smells nice, blooms a very long time and doesn’t get that powdery covering from mildew.

There you go, plants and the right time to plant them. I don’t mean to twist your arm, but September is such a wonderful month to be outdoors. Ahhhh yes, the summer garden slumber is over, it’s time to sink your feet in the soil again and fall into planting.


Fall into planting tips-


Stewartia pseudocamellia:

Aka-Japanese Stewartia. Ht.18 ft in 10 years. 25’ max. 2” white flowers July/August. Orange/red leaves in fall. Cinnamon colored bark.
Japanese Maple: ‘Shishigashira’

Aka-Lion’s Head Japanese Maple. Slow grower Ht. 8’. Max’s out at 15 feet in 15 years.


Japanese Maple: ‘Sango Kaku’

Aka-Coral Bark Maple. Ht. 5’ Brilliant coral bark in the fall and winter. Green leaves become yellow with a hint of rose in fall.


Flowering Perennials?

Aster: ‘Lady in Black’

4’ clump of blackish purple leaves. Tons of delicate tiny white daisy flowers with eye catching red centers. Butterfly magnet.




Phlox: ‘David’

Ht. 3’ Full sun/partial shade.  6” pom poms of fragrant white flowers, mid summer-early fall. Mildew resistant.


Coneflower: ‘Art’s Pride’ ‘Mango Meadow bright’ ‘Sunrise’ ‘Sunset’

Ht. 3’ Giant 4” wide flowers (tangerine/orange or stunning clear yellows) blooms July-September.