Plan a fall garden refresh

By Dee Nash August 2023

August is the perfect time to take stock of your garden containers

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Rustic Dwarf’

It’s still hot, but August is the perfect time to take stock of your garden containers and plan for fall. September through October, we usually have two beautiful months to enjoy the outdoors. If you start planning now, you will soon find plants in autumnal shades that can still shrug off a hot day.

Tropical temptations

First, let’s discuss the tropical plants that make southern gardens shine. I know tropicals are an investment because they don’t overwinter, but bear with me. Imagine sitting on your patio or deck with a glass of something cool to drink as you grill outdoors and gaze upon your lovely containers. Doesn’t that sound nice?

You don’t need to replace every plant either. First, look over your pots and take inventory. Which plants are looking their worst? Which plants can you simply cut back and refresh?

Consider plants that will coordinate or contrast with what remains. If you planted purple fountain grass for example, it already has that dark purple hue that will go great with fall colors like orange, yellow and warm, dark red.

Soon nurseries will be filled with fun tropical plants like crotons, which were once only grown as houseplants, but now are extremely popular plants for full sun. Ornamental pepper plants are also fabulous for sunny containers. And don’t forget coleus and celosia. If you already have coleus in your containers, simply chop them back so that they will put out a new flush of foliage.

Echinacea “Cheyenne Spirit” and crotons

Pansies, violas, panolas and even petchoas

Look for pansies that sport Halloween colors like dark purple that looks almost black, orange with dark faces like Inspire Plus Orange Blotch and Matrix Solar Flare, or you can go with the more subtle Nature™ Antique Shades violas which are a lovely peach with a darker eye. Pansies and violas are basically cousins, and in recent years, plant breeders have created hybrids called panolas. Panolas have larger pansy faces with the mounding growth habit and hardiness of violas. Pansies, violas and panolas are fantastic filler plants, and by growing them in containers, rabbits can’t eat them.

Hybridizers are doing something similar by mixing calibrochoas and petunias thus creating petchoas in rustic shades. Last year, I grew a caramel yellow petchoa with a short, orangey pink celosia next to an ornamental pepper. It was beautiful.

Shorter perennials are good, too

In addition to tropical foliage plants, there are plenty of shorter perennial varieties to add to your containers. Last year, I planted a few prairie plants like Rudbeckia hirta ‘Rustic Dwarf.’ In late fall, perennials can be transplanted into your garden beds after the first freeze. Just be sure to water them weekly when temperatures are higher than 40°.

Don’t forget to fertilize

Celosia, petchoa and ornamental pepper

Your pots have been through three months of extreme heat so your potting soil also needs a refresher. Even if you used a long-acting fertilizer, all that watering has probably deleted its effectiveness especially in crowded containers. When you install your new plants, be sure to work in some fertilizer around them according to the package instructions. I usually put in a handful of an organic one like FoxFarm’s Happy Frog All-Purpose Fertilizer in each hole as I plant.

By carefully inventorying your containers now, you’ll be ready to refresh them when fall plants hit the nurseries. If autumn is the second spring, let’s get dreaming and then enjoy our work outside as the evenings cool.

Category: Gardening

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