Want to keep your garden blooming into fall? Here are seven easy steps to achieve a beautiful fall garden.
1. Look for plant holes in your landscape.
Plant holes, everyone has them. It might be from a plant that died, or, maybe, a perennial didn’t grow as expected, and you now have more space than you intended. Install a fall-blooming perennial in that space. In coming years, it will delight you each autumn, and you will be on your way to creating a beautiful fall garden.
As summer flowers fade, pollinators need access to nectar and pollen before winter. Beekeepers call late summer a dearth because there are so few plants for honey bees and other pollinators. One essential plant for almost all pollinators is goldenrod. You can find many different varieties of this American prairie native, and if you only plant one fall bloomer, goldenrod should be it. Don’t confuse goldenrod with ragweed which blooms at the same time. Unlike ragweed, goldenrod is insect-pollinated so it doesn’t cause unhappy sinuses. I wrote more about this in my August Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day post. High Country Gardens has three different goldenrod varieties they will ship for fall planting.
3. Plant milkweed for Monarch butterflies and other pollinators too.
I grow several varieties of native and tropical milkweeds, but some of my perennial favorites are the showy milkweeds which should be a part of your beautiful fall garden plan. I’m really enjoying pink-blossomed, swamp, or marsh milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, in my garden bed next to the back deck. I experimented cutting part of it back when I “Chelsea chopped” some of the other perennials and left some as-is. I like the chopped milkweed better because it is bushier and has more leaves for raising Monarchs.
Speaking of Monarch butterflies, I’m seeing a lot of adult females in the garden, one or two every day. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, it isn’t in the great scheme of things, but I didn’t see any Monarchs for several years. I planted 150 plugs of Asclepias speciosa, showy milkweed, A. asperula, antelope horn, spider milkweed, and A. viridis, green milkweed, all natives suited to Oklahoma, in the upper pasture meadow too. I hope they will continue to grow, and in future years, feed even more butterflies and bees. In the meantime, I’m considering ordering this swamp milkweed collection for my regular garden. Milkweeds don’t just feed Monarchs. They are also nectar plants for a variety of insects.
In September, in the midst of all of your planting and weeding, don’t forget to take time for butterfly watching too. Oklahoma and Texas are on the migratory flight paths for many butterflies and birds. Anything we can do to help pollinators is a really good idea. I raise Monarch caterpillars, but it’s not for everyone. Everyone, however, can plant milkweed.
4. Wait until the weather cools down to plant perennials.
It is tempting to hit various sales, but if you’re not an experienced gardener who remembers to frequently water plants stressed from the heat, just wait until mid-September to plant perennials. This is especially true of daylilies because they are often sold bare-root and being shallow-rooted they often rot in the heat. Since most of Oklahoma doesn’t get a freeze until late October or afterward, perennials planted in September should be fine.
When buying perennials this fall, you might also try Allium ‘Millenium’ which Carol Michel and I discuss on the Gardenangelists podcast this week. It’s a great bee plant, and it performs much better than other alliums in Oklahoma. It is also deer and rabbit resistant. Shorter than most alliums, it needs to go at the front of the border.
5. Visit another garden nearby to see what works well in your area.
Even in the time of COVID, you can visit a nearby garden with the same growing conditions. Just wear a mask and stay six feet apart to remain safe. We know from CDC guidelines that outdoor visits are safer than indoors, and everyone could use the boost of an in-person visit right now. Take notes and ask questions even if you must email them. Most gardeners are glad to help.
For in-person, socially-distant garden coaching, or online help, you’re welcome to contact me at email@example.com. Fall is a good time for garden coaching, and I’m not as busy as in the spring.
Stachytarpheta ‘Nectarwand Red’, red false vervain, a Bustani Plant Farm introduction, is one of the best nectar plants for butterflies in my garden. Pipevine Swallowtail on ‘Nectarwand Red’ false vervain. Monarch feasting on the nectar of ‘Nectarwand Red’ false vervain, one of the best adult butterfly plants in my garden. Stachytarpheta ‘Nectarwand Red’ false vervain outperformed my other false vervains in the garden last summer.
6. Plant good garden mums and perennial asters for pollinators along with ornamental grasses for the fall garden dance.
My pink muhly grass is always a big hit this time of year. Remember, your fall garden really begins in spring, but you can still plant perennial grasses like muhly grass in the fall. Just don’t expect them to take off immediately. Perennials take three years to mature.
Adult Monarch on ‘Will’s Wonderful’ mum is all of its bright glory. Chrysanthemum ‘Fall Charm’ new to my garden in 2016. ‘Emperor of China’ mum in the border along the garage. Chrysanthemum ‘Will’s Wonderful’ from 2011. So many butterflies, large and small, love asters and mums like this ‘Bluebird’ smooth aster. Carpenter bee on Boltonia asteroides Pink Beauty. Aster tataricus, Tatarian aster ‘Jindai’ with a sleepy bumble.
Next spring, look for late-blooming tropical plants like Stachytarpheta ‘Nectarwand Red’ false vervain–one of my best butterfly nectar plants–but go ahead and plant fall-blooming perennials like Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage. Also, don’t forget mums and asters. They are fall favorites.
7. Weed out crabgrass and other bad actors and mulch.
In garden beds where fall flowers and other plants look their best in September, weed out crabgrass and other weeds that threaten your plants. Mulch with shredded leaves or shredded pine bark to emphasize new plantings. Focus on areas you see all the time going in and out of the house. Fixing these will cheer you up even after a long, hot summer, and late summer flowers are beautiful to behold once temperatures begin to ease. Alternatively, if you have a deck or patio in your backyard, clean it out first. We’re about to have beautiful evening temperatures, and you don’t want to miss them.
Fall is when I feel lucky to live and garden in Oklahoma. The weather is beautiful with highs often in the 80s and lows in the 60s. The sky is almost always clear blue, except when the rains return, and we appreciate the rain.
I love fall, and I hope these seven easy steps to a beautiful fall garden will help you grow too.