The best of autumn garden color falls into place

The middle part of September is when your lawn should be coming back to green.

  • Monday, September 14, 2009 7:38pm
  • Life

Marianne Binetti will appear from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Windmill Gardens in Sumner. The session is free and the topic is fall planting and maintenance. For details, visit www.windmillgarden.com.

The middle part of September is when your lawn should be coming back to green. The hot, dry summer left many lawns “going golden” but these water-saving lawns are not dead, just sleeping. If you want to wake up your lawn for renovation, remember that an application of dolomite lime or calcium carbonate is an easy and inexpensive way to help prevent moss and increase drainage. Don’t try to aerate your lawn if the soil is still hard and dry. Wait a few more weeks until the soil is saturated with rain and moist down at least 6 inches. The most important time to feed any lawn in western Washington is the fall. Use a slow-release fall and winter lawn food and you will not only have a lawn that looks better this fall, but one that greens up sooner next spring as well.

Now take a look at your summer-weary containers and hanging baskets and make this the year you celebrate the change in seasons with some fall magic. Here are the top five plants to help you fall into autumn color:

Best Perennial for Fall Color

Sedum “Autumn Joy”

This drought-resistant perennial blooms in poor soil, can handle full sun or part shade and the slugs in my garden ignore it completely, perhaps because they are too busy eating my hostas. The leaves are plump and rounded and the tall stems hold flat panicles of blooms that start out green in the summer then turn pink and finally copper-colored for late autumn texture. Like all sedums they need a good pinch in early summer to keep them compact so they won’t fall over from growing too tall. New varieties of this old favorite are popping up at local nurseries now. You can find this sedum with white and green leaves and pale pink flowers and this tall sedum also comes with a yellow-striped foliage. Sedum “Autumn Joy” is a great perennial for cutting and bringing indoors as the flowers will dry for decorations that will last until Thanksgiving.

Best Vine for Fall Color

Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis paniculata): A tough and hardy climber that will cover a wall, long fence, garden shed or even a small country if you let it go. The white blooms cover the vine with such abundance you can’t even see the foliage. All this color also adds a sweet scent to the garden. Fall is a good time to add any clematis vine to the garden but if you find the Sweet Autumn Clematis for sale at a nursery and have a chain link fence or even a rotting tree stump, add Sweet Autumn Clematis as a beautiful screening vine that will celebrate the change of the season with color and fragrance every autumn.

Best Tree for Fall Color

Japanese maples (Acer palmatum): Hands down the best tree for Northwest gardens because it loves our climate, has year-long interest and comes in a variety of different cultivars from grafted dwarfs to small-leaved “butterfly” types with pink and green foliage. The Japanese maple variety called “Bloodgood” is still the most spectacular for crimson fall color. Here’s something to help you contain your enthusiasm if you’ve run out of room in the garden for Japanese maples: let them go to pots. These shallow-rooted trees grow well in large containers. Choose a pot at least 24 inches deep and as wide and your Japanese maple will be happy for five or six years. Like all contained plants, be sure you water your potted Japanese maples in the summer.

Best Shrub for Fall Color

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus ‘compacta‘): even the “compacta” or dwarf variety of the burning bush grows 10 feet tall and as wide in our climate, so give this deciduous shrub lots of room to spread out. The summer’s green leaves turn fiery red in the fall, making this shrub a magnificent backdrop for maple or ginkgo trees that turn yellow. Burning bush is a tough shrub that adjusts to all types of soil but it must have good drainage. If you plant the burning bush in a more shaded location the leaves will not turn as bright red but still blush to a subtle pink.

Visit your local nursery, check out the color in the parks and arboretums to discover more fall magic and then group together your favorite fall plants to create an autumn theme garden.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

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