COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Late-summer bloomers bring color to fall

As August winds down, a new season in the garden begins. Late summer is the perfect time to visit a nursery and check out what trees, shrubs and perennials still look great at the end of the season. Anything growing in a nursery pot can be safely planted into the garden all year long. We still have a month of great outdoor weather to enjoy so consider adding these late-summer bloomers to a spot near the patio or deck where you can enjoy them on the last of the warm summer evenings.


Rose of Sharon Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus): New and improved with larger blooms and an undemanding nature, these shrubs can be trained into small trees or pruned back hard every winter and kept as compact shrubs or potted patio plants. The tropical-looking blooms don’t appear until August in my garden but then this shrub just keeps on blooming until the first frost.

You can find Rose of Sharon with all white blooms or with flowers that are white with deep red eyes and use these as the backdrop for an all-white moon garden. Deep purple blooms, violet blue and double flowering pink varieties are also available and all survive freezing winter weather if you remember not to fertilize or prune at the end of the summer.

The garden gossip on this late bloomer is that foliage drops quickly in the fall and then the plant remains leafless until late May.

Hydrangeas: So many kinds, so many blooms and color that lasts long past August. Look beyond the familiar big-leaf varieties with the mop-head, rounded blue balls of blooms and consider adding the oak leaf hydrangea or hydrangea quercifolia. The leaves are lobed like an oak leaf and turn a rich red and burgundy in late summer, highlighted by creamy panicles of bloom. This hydrangea is more drought-resistant than others and mine does well mixed with native plants in a woodland setting.


Sedum Autumn Joy: This is perhaps my favorite fall-blooming perennial because this upright plant can tolerate poor soil, slugs, deer and drought and still offer August blooms that will dry on the plant and last long into winter. New varieties of this shrubby sedum have yellow and white variegation on the leaves and pink, white or rusty orange flower clusters. Butterflies and bees love this plant so you’ll hear a pleasant hum of contentment as you approach sedum Autumn Joy in bloom.


Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica): Got a wet spot? The bright red blades of this ornamental grass will glow in the late summer sun especially if backlit by a sunset. It took me a few years to figure out that, unlike most ornamental grasses, this redhead is not drought resistant, loves lots of water and will even tolerate somewhat soggy soil. I like bright red blades poking up among the blueberry bushes that also thrive in damp soil.


Japanese maples: If a sickly cherry tree or blighted plum is ruining your outdoor view point, make this the month you replace it with a beautiful Japanese maple. All the maples love our climate and many of the Japanese varieties have small leaves that not only begin to turn color at the end of August but don’t leave require raking when they drop onto the lawn. Plus, many Japanese maples are naturally small with great figures requiring very little pruning. Late summer and early autumn is the best time to shop for and plant Japanese maples because then you can see for yourself exactly how the foliage will look in the fall. Did I mention these lovely trees are happy to grow in large pots? For small space gardens, patios and decks, potted Japanese maples add plenty of late summer and autumn color.

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