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September in the Garden: 8 Ways to Stretch the Season

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September in the Garden: 8 Ways to Stretch the Season

September 12, 2023

For forward-thinking gardeners, stretching out the flowering season for as long as possible is a no-brainer to create borders that look good almost entirely year-round. But it takes careful planning, editing, and maintenance. And in autumn, arguably, the balance is most finely calibrated. As summer ends, a garden that remains vibrant until the first frost can be mesmerizingly beautiful, making the most of autumn’s soft, hazy light. Follow these eight seasonal pointers to keep your borders singing for as long as possible.

1. Keep deadheading.

Cut back early flowering salvias hard in July after their first flowering and they will return with an autumn flush. But continually deadheading perennials down to a pair of leaves will also keep the flower spikes growing until the first frosts. Photograph by Claire Takacs.
Above: Cut back early flowering salvias hard in July after their first flowering and they will return with an autumn flush. But continually deadheading perennials down to a pair of leaves will also keep the flower spikes growing until the first frosts. Photograph by Claire Takacs.

2. Lean in to jewel colors.

Above: The season’s heavy hitters, including dahlias and red hot pokers, can often appear too garish to those with a preference for more subdued schemes. But choose just one or two hues to create a tonal effect and these flowers take on a more elegant character. Here, in the Blue Diamond Forge garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2021, Kniphofia ‘Poco Red’ stars in a tonal scene with chocolate cosmos, airy Panicum ‘Rehbraun’ and echinacea. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

3. Go big on asters.

Michaelmas daisies bring lush mounds of intense color to borders, just as other perennials start to lose some vigor. Their range of hues, from deep purple to all shades of pink, look wonderful planted en masse or mixed with grasses, and their variety of forms allows them to be planted throughout a border. As the name suggests ‘Purple Dome’ forms neat mounds to around 5ocm with intense purple flowers for the front of a border; the ever-popular ‘Little Carlow’, not all that little at \1.\2m, has upright stems topped with the prettiest lilac daisies, while ‘Violetta’ has intense magenta flowers and produces upright stems to \1.5m. These late flowering perennials also provide a valuable source of nectar through the autumn months. Photograph by Britt Willoughy Dyer.
Above: Michaelmas daisies bring lush mounds of intense color to borders, just as other perennials start to lose some vigor. Their range of hues, from deep purple to all shades of pink, look wonderful planted en masse or mixed with grasses, and their variety of forms allows them to be planted throughout a border. As the name suggests ‘Purple Dome’ forms neat mounds to around 5ocm with intense purple flowers for the front of a border; the ever-popular ‘Little Carlow’, not all that little at 1.2m, has upright stems topped with the prettiest lilac daisies, while ‘Violetta’ has intense magenta flowers and produces upright stems to 1.5m. These late flowering perennials also provide a valuable source of nectar through the autumn months. Photograph by Britt Willoughy Dyer.

4. Maximise structure.

Add interesting structural plants that can hold interest when there are fewer plants flowering. Here, Melianthus major takes center stage against a warm wall at Le Jardin Plume in Normandy, France. With its stunning toothed, glaucous leaves, this architectural plant can be a dazzling addition to borders too, but it needs a sheltered spot in free draining soil. Photograph by Claire Takacs.
Above: Add interesting structural plants that can hold interest when there are fewer plants flowering. Here, Melianthus major takes center stage against a warm wall at Le Jardin Plume in Normandy, France. With its stunning toothed, glaucous leaves, this architectural plant can be a dazzling addition to borders too, but it needs a sheltered spot in free draining soil. Photograph by Claire Takacs.

5. Manicure hedges.

Rather than waiting until winter to trim hedges, cut them now to bring back some definition. Depending on how quickly they grow, they may not need another winter cut but the sharper forms will provide a manicured backdrop for autumn’s big perennials, bold colors, and golden grasses. Here, clouds of Deschampsia cespitosa, in Oudolf&#8\2\17;s own garden. stand in stark contrast to the clean-lined hedges behind them. Photograph courtesy of Learning With Experts.
Above: Rather than waiting until winter to trim hedges, cut them now to bring back some definition. Depending on how quickly they grow, they may not need another winter cut but the sharper forms will provide a manicured backdrop for autumn’s big perennials, bold colors, and golden grasses. Here, clouds of Deschampsia cespitosa, in Oudolf’s own garden. stand in stark contrast to the clean-lined hedges behind them. Photograph courtesy of Learning With Experts.

6. Invest in grasses.

Above: Ornamental grasses truly come into their own in the low light of autumn, providing movement and texture as well as a glistening backdrop and contrast to flowering perennials and annuals. Calamagrostis cultivars—most notably ‘Karl Foerster’—bring strong verticals that will stand right through winter; the mesmerizing plumes of Miscanthus can be used as either a backdrop with larger varieties such as ‘Malepartus’, or to bring movement lower down in the borders with shorter cultivars such as ‘Ferner Osten’. Clump forming panicums meanwhile bring incredible movement with their arching stems and glistening flower heads. Photograph by Claire Takacs.

7. Master succession.

Above: Perennials in the garden at Hummelo in The Netherlands. Rather than one big explosion of summer-flowering plants, a long season of interest relies on managing flowering so that different plants are blooming in succession, often in tightly choreographed combinations. And autumn is where that succession becomes key. When planting new borders consider what will provide interest in all seasons and what you can count on to flower beyond the summer peak. Photograph courtesy of Claire Takacs, from Wild: The Naturalistic Garden.

8. De-brown your borders.

Above: A quick way to freshen up borders in early autumn is to cut back the plants which have gone over, removing any brown or tired material. This de-browning will often bring a renewed flush of foliage and, in some cases, new flowers, too. But, crucially, leave the plants that you want for winter structure in place, including the seedheads of plants such as phlomis, eryngium, baptisia, lunaria, diorama, echincea, and rudbeckia. Photograph by Cristin Gaell.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the gardening season in Autumn?

The gardening season in Autumn typically refers to the period between September and November when gardeners can continue to plant, harvest, and maintain their gardens.

What are some tips for extending the gardening season in Autumn?

To extend the gardening season in Autumn, you can try techniques like using row covers or cloches to protect plants from frost, planting cold-tolerant crops, applying mulch to insulate the soil, and utilizing a greenhouse or cold frame.

What are some cold-tolerant crops that can be grown in Autumn?

Cold-tolerant crops that can be grown in Autumn include kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, beets, and certain varieties of broccoli and cauliflower.

How can I protect my plants from frost in Autumn?

To protect plants from frost in Autumn, you can cover them with row covers or cloches, bring potted plants indoors, water the soil thoroughly before a frost to provide some insulation, or use frost blankets or straw to protect tender plants.

What should I do to prepare my garden for Autumn?

To prepare your garden for Autumn, remove any remaining summer crops, clean up garden debris, amend the soil with compost or organic matter, mulch around plants to protect roots and retain moisture, and consider planting cover crops to improve soil health.

Can I start new plants from seeds in Autumn?

Yes, you can start certain plants from seeds in Autumn. However, it's important to choose cold-tolerant varieties and provide appropriate growing conditions, such as using a greenhouse or cold frame, to ensure successful germination and growth.

How often should I water my garden in Autumn?

The watering needs of your garden in Autumn will depend on various factors including the weather, soil moisture, and specific plant requirements. Generally, it's recommended to water deeply and infrequently, allowing the soil to dry slightly between watering sessions.

Should I fertilize my garden in Autumn?

Fertilizing in Autumn can be beneficial, especially for plants that are still actively growing. However, it's important to use a balanced fertilizer and follow the specific recommendations for different plants. Avoid excessive fertilization, as it can lead to imbalances or encourage late-season growth that may not survive winter.

How can I make the most of the Autumn harvest?

To make the most of the Autumn harvest, plan your crops strategically, prioritize harvesting at the peak of ripeness, preserve excess produce through methods like canning or freezing, share with friends or neighbors, and consider trying new recipes or food preservation techniques.

What are some common pests or diseases to watch out for in Autumn?

In Autumn, common pests and diseases include aphids, fungus gnats, powdery mildew, and certain fungal or bacterial diseases. Regularly inspect your plants, practice good hygiene, and use organic pest control methods or appropriate fungicides if necessary.

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