Summer Burn-Out to Fall Brilliance

a picture of tickseed coreopsis

By Julie Evans Straatmann

(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener August 2006 issue)

This time of year, most of our gardens are showing the effects of a hot dry summer.  No matter how much watering we do, Mother Nature does it best.

a picture of tickseed coreopsis

Coreopsis lanceolata (Tickseed)

Many perennials benefit by having a good hair cut to freshen up their appearance.  Coreopsis (tickseed), Geranium (cranesbill), Nepeta (catmint), Salvia (meadow sage) and Veronica (speedwell) can be cut-back hard as long as you “leave a little leaf to grow on” and they will then re-bloom in two to three weeks.  Aquilegia (columbine) can be cut-back all the way down and it will flush back in a couple of weeks with gorgeous foliage for the rest of the season, and maybe a few blooms for the fall.

By this time some perennials like Monarda (bee balm) and Leucanthemum (shasta daisy) are looking a little worse for wear.  This is a good time to cut them down to stubs, they’ll green-up again although don’t count on more blooms.

After your trimming, pruning and weeding is complete you may find you have more room

a picture of garden perennials

Black-eyed Susan, Phlox and Shasta daisy

for more plants.  There is only one cure for this “green thumb disease” . . . plant more!  Phlox paniculata (garden phlox) continue to bloom into the fall if deadheaded.  Perovskia (Russian sage), Helianthus (perennial sunflower), Anemone (windflower) and Sedum (live-forever or frog bellies, my personal favorite common name) have great long-lasting color in the sun.  Aconitum (monk’s hood), Ceratostigma (plumbago), Cimicifuga (snakeroot) and Tricyrtis (toadlily) do the job in the shade, giving bloom color into fall.

It cannot be denied ornamental grasses present an unstoppable display for this time of year.  Miscanthus (maiden grass) for its coppery seed heads, Pennisetum (fountain grass) give soft mounds with foxtail like plumes, Panicum (switchgrass) has the best steely blue colored foliage, and Saccharum (hardy pampas grass) for it’s tall ostrich feathered plumes.  All these grasses and more give a colorful foliage display in the fall.

Asters and mums are the fall garden standards.  It’s hard to beat the bright deep dense colors that these “tried and true” perennials can give.  Like anything else, with proper care and maintenance these perennials will continue their late summer and fall performance.

Tips to keep a fresh look in the perennial garden:

  • Morning watering
  • Water longer for deep soaking less often instead of small amounts everyday
  • Keep mulch between plants, just not touching the plant
  • Aerate the soil and mulch so that a crust doesn’t form and water can penetrate
  • Deadhead and trim old blooms and discolored foliage
  • A tall glass of iced lemonade or water for you and sit back in the shade to enjoy a job well done

Julie Evans Straatmann is a horticulturist with more than 30 years in the professional landscape, retail and wholesale nursery trade. Perennials and practical home gardening are her main focus. Currently at Passiglia’s Nursery in Wildwood, MO, Julie can be reached at (636) 458-9202.