The Well-Dressed Garden

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The changing season comes with a promise of splashy colors -- not just in the tree foliage, but in the garden, too. In a well-diversified garden, annuals, perennials and shrubs keep working long into fall and make this the garden's most refreshing season.

Garden shops traditionally stock up with chrysanthemums and pansies in the fall. They're typically in bloom or in bud when you buy them, and they keep right on blooming through cool autumn days. The selection is impressive, but these plants do not have exclusive rights to fall color: reblooming and late-blooming annuals, perennials and shrubs can be the backbone of a fall garden.

"Reblooming is more than a buzzword among breeders," says Natalia Hamill, a brand manager for Bailey's nursery, which developed the Endless Summer series of non-stop-blooming hydrangeas. "It's one of the first questions people ask," Hamill says. "The retail buyer wants to know: does it re-bloom? This is a goal for any spring or summer blooming plant."

Breeders have responded to the demand with plants that look great in summer's heat but really sparkle in the cooler, shorter days after Labor Day. It's a pleasure to be in the garden during this season -- summer's lushness lingers on, while the heat fades away.

Professionals actually use two terms to describe plants that keep blooming. Rebloomers are plants, such as many roses, that produce wave after wave of bloom from late spring through frost. Knock Out roses are the best-known reblooming shrub roses, but there are many other disease-resistant roses that look great all season long and keep blooming through the fall, including two dozen roses in Bailey's Easy Elegance series. Reblooming plants produce their flowers exclusively on each year's new growth.

Remontant plants are those that bloom both on the previous year's growth and on new growth, Hamill says. In the world of hydrangeas, remontant types are the hottest thing on the market. The buds that open early in the summer have wintered in the garden; in late summer and fall, more flowers are produced on new growth. For gardeners, the terminology is less important than the flowers themselves. Bloom Struck, the latest hydrangea in the Endless Summer series, is an especially prolific plant: It continues to produce flowers until the end of October, even in Minnesota.

Clipping off the spent blooms of annual flowers all summer long will encourage them to keep blooming through fall. Cosmos and zinnias come to mind, but marigolds are hearty rebloomers, whose cheerful yellow-and-orange palette suits the fall season perfectly. They're often available at garden shops in fall, alongside mums and pansies, in case you neglected to plant them in the spring.

Cutting spent blooms to encourage a new flush of flowers also works with some shrubs, such as crape myrtles, Hamill says. "Cut them back after they bloom in summer, and they will rebloom in September and October," she says. The new Bloomerang lilac will throw up flowers through the fall if you cut off old blooms, with either hedge shears or hand pruners, and they add a fine color to the fall palette. Butterfly bushes also continue to bloom if you keep them trimmed.

Hamill loves reblooming and remontant plants, but she doesn't rely on them alone. Ornamental grasses are at their exuberant best in fall. Asters and sedums come into bloom, attracting butterflies to the garden. Of course, there are the chrysanthemums and pansies. Trees and shrubs with red berries are bright spots in any garden, and they also attract migrating birds. "You really want layers of plants," Hamill says, "with foliage, flowers, seed heads, pretty textures."

Among foliage plants, the handsome leaves of ninebark Amber Jubilee or Coppertina will bring the fiery colors of the maples down to eye level; the large, quilted foliage of oak-leaf hydrangeas turns from green to a rich burgundy in fall. Tiger Eyes sumac, known for its attention-grabbing chartreuse foliage all summer long, turns an intense, dramatic orange in fall before the leaves drop, exposing striking straight stems that cast long shadows in the winter garden.

If summer flowerpots are getting tired, early fall is a great time to replant; garden shops are usually well-stocked right after Labor Day. "It's time to spruce up anything that looks bedraggled," says Chris Brown, greenhouse manager at White Oak Gardens in Cincinnati. The garden shop sells ornamental grasses, anemones and asters for flower beds or for fall pots. Like many gardens shops, White Oak Gardens also stocks a good supply of trees and shrubs, and fall is the ideal time to plant them. For serious gardeners, "it's a shot in the arm," Brown says.

There's no reason to slow down: Fall is a great time to plant, and a beautiful time of year to be in the garden, says Tom Hilgeman, the shop's general manager. Hydrangea paniculata, whose creamy panicles of blooms fade to a rich, deep blush, is one of his favorite fall plants. He also recommends shrub roses and spireas for fall gardens. Shrubs you plant in the fall will not grow much before winter sets in; but water them well, and they'll send roots down and settle in. Next spring, they'll be ready to grow -- and to keep on looking good all the way through to the end of fall.

(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at

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