Late bloomers: Summer’s over, but don’t despair; fall flowers await

Tamara Browning

Gardeners can look to fall plants to add punches of color to their homes’ landscape — whether in the ground or in containers.

Fall gardeners can find a variety of ideas for fall plants at area nurseries. Gardening experts agree that mums and asters are good standbys for fall flowers.

“For fall, the mums are great. They need full sun to do well. We’ve got quite a few different varieties and colors,” employee Mark Davis said during a September tour of Hilltop Gardens Nursery in Spaulding. Davis has 35 years of experience in horticulture.

“The sedums are all blooming. They’re almost like a succulent.

“The Knock Out roses are going nuts right now. If you have a spot in the yard, that’s a great plant to use. They’ll bloom until November, if we don’t get a heavy freeze.”

While mums and asters are considered favorite choices for fall color for in-ground or container gardens, the potential for harsh winter weather leads many gardening experts to consider them annuals.

LuAnne Woodrum, one of the owners of Spring Creek Nursery Inc., tells people that mums are not considered a perennial.

“But you can plant them. Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they don’t,” Woodrum said.

Woodrum’s tip for gardeners who want to try to keep mums — “mulch.”

Sally Noble, president of the Springfield Civic Garden Club and a gardening consultant, agreed that with this area’s climate, mums are kind of “iffy.”

Mums are among plants that can be grown in pots. (Others to consider are aster, kale, fountain grass, croton, smaller pumpkins and solidago [fireworks].) Everything grown in a pot should be treated as an annual, Noble said.

“If they try to plant it after everything has bloomed, the plant isn’t going to, more than likely, have enough room to get it through into the soil enough to survive over the winter,” Noble said.

Noble had been told over the years to treat mums, and sometimes asters, as an annual, she said.

“If you have a winter that you got 20 below, I wouldn’t look for your asters and your mums to come up next year unless you’ve got them in a very protected place and well-mulched,” Noble said.

Noble lives in a rural area, on top of a hill where southwest winds come through in the winter. If the winters are not severely cold, most of her mums and asters will come back.

“If it’s 10-15 below or better, I can forget all of that. I can’t grow roses, either, because of it,” Noble said.

Noble suggested that gardeners wanting to plant mums in the ground buy them in the spring to get them established. Then they could shear off a couple of inches when the mums start budding, which will help the plant bloom in the fall.

“If you let the buds continue in July, you’re going to have blooms the first part of August, and then when you want your blooms from the middle to the end of September into October, your plants are already done,” Noble said.

“If you want to try to keep them for next year, you need to plant them in the spring. Plant them where they’re going to get lots of sun and in a protected area, if any way possible, and then mulch them for over the winter and maybe you’ll get them to come popping through next spring.”

Knowing where to place plants is important, Davis said.

“That’s the secret to the whole thing — get the right plant in the right place and the rest of it’s easy,” Davis said.

Davis pointed out an abundance of plants at Hilltop Gardens Nursery that gardeners might consider for fall: grasses, windflower, turtlehead, holly, burning bush, carpet roses, shrub roses, spirea, oakleaf hydrangea, ninebark, sunshine blue caryopteris, phlox, dwarf balloon flower and more.

“Most of what we have are perennials right now. You can always use grasses in containers because they’re starting to make their flowers,” Davis said.

Woodrum, who lives in the Jacksonville area, has lots of mums and asters plus ornamental kale, a type of loose-leaf cabbage that can grow until January.

“Ornamental grasses have a year-round appeal because they’re good in the summer and the fall, when they start to turn and bloom,” Woodrum said.

“They give you appeal in the winter, too, because with all the plumes. They’re good protection for birds, too. They like the tall grasses.”

Hilltop Gardens Nursery carries varieties of plants that are smaller than their old-fashioned versions. For example, the Little Henry sweetspire grows from 3- by 3-feet when the original Virginia sweetspire can grow to 6- by 7-feet.

“Most people don’t want the old-fashioned big varieties of these plants most of the time,” Davis said.

“Most people don’t have the room, and most people don’t want to take the time to have to maintain them. We’ve got all kinds of new varieties, like double-blooming azalea. It blooms in the spring and the fall. It only gets 4 by 4.”

Davis said there are constantly new plant varieties coming out that experts need to keep up with.

“It’s one of the things I like about this business,” Davis said.

Tamara Browning can be reached at (217) 788-1534

Hilltop Gardens Nursery and Spring Creek Nursery Inc.

* WHERE: Hilltop Gardens Nursery, 4739 S. Williamsville Road (1/4 mile north of Route 54 at Spaulding), 629-7506. Owner: Larry Matthys.

Spring Creek Nursery Inc., 4890 W. State Route 97, Springfield, 726-6010. Owners: LuAnne Woodrum and Donna Schaddel.

* DID YOU KNOW: Both Hilltop Gardens Nursery and Spring Creek Nursery sell trees, which are perfect for fall planting.