As I’ve been thinking about the new flower bed I’ll be installing this fall and next spring, a few plants rate as “must-haves.” One of them is Autumn Joy sedum, which is currently in bloom in my garden and in many others from Canada to the south. What a great plant!
Its scientific names is Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ so you can see why they came up with the common name Autumn Joy. It has succulent-like leaves and when it comes up in the spring it looks like a tiny cactus or an odd cabbage; the foliage makes the plant interesting even when it is not blooming. It grows about 2 feet tall and in mid-summer develops pale green flowers, about 3 inches across. Beginning in September, these change color, going from green to pink to a rich red then almost rust, fading to brown after a hard freeze. You don’t want to cut it back in the fall, because the seedheads provide food for birds and make perfect landing pads for snowflakes. In winter, the seedheads sometimes look like they are wearing stocking caps of snow.
Autumn Joy is drought and salt tolerant and gets by in fair soil. It does need to be divided every few years to maintain an upright look. Mine has been in this location about four years and definitely needs to be divided. The plant is flopping over.
Plant breeders have developed several other sedum cultivars to take advantage of Autumn Joy’s popularity. ‘Autumn Fire’ is similar to Autumn Joy in color, but forms a tighter clump. ‘Black Jack’ is a sedum with purplish foliage. ‘John Creech’ grows only 2 inches tall and is used as a groundcover. There are many others as well. Sedum is sometimes called stonecrop because it grows so well around rocks. Whether you have a rock garden, or just a sunny one, sedum is a good choice.
While out in the garden Saturday, I noticed two more plants blooming that I would not have expected so late in October. In my front bed, a rose has more than a dozen buds on it. These are Flower Carpet Roses, a long-blooming, hardy rose, though I don’t recall ever getting buds this late. In addition, on the north side of the house, several daylilies now have blooms. These are Stella d’Oro, a yellow daylily that is known for its long bloom, but it’s usually wilted by now. Stellas are a particularly hardy daylily and I noticed several of them blooming away in a parking lot bed at Walgreens in Northfield. Sunday morning, while walking the dog, I spotted three other yards nearby with roses blooming, and a purple bloom that looked suspiciously like an iris! If I see the homeowner, I’ll ask what it is. In addition to in-the-ground blooms, my container plants continue to put out flowers and foliage. Two trailing coleus (Lava Green and Lava Rose) look great and the Fiesta Ole double impatiens planted with them are still blooming. A lovely Calibrachoa (MiniFamous Dark Blue) is also blooming like crazy.
After my last post on blooms, I decided to check out how other northern gardens were doing. Kathy Purdy, who runs the Cold Climate Gardening web site, and gardens in USDA zone 4 in New York state, recently listed the plants blooming in her garden as of Oct. 15. She also has blooms on larkspur and catmint as well as mallow and yarrow and a few stray blooms on her phlox (mine also has a few flowers). She has petunias in pots, Johnny jump-ups, and colchicum, a flower that grows from corms (or tubers) and is sometimes called autumn crocus.
One reason for the sustained blooming may be the lack of low night temperatures. September 15 the temps dipped to 30 degrees F in Northfield. That knocked out my tomatoes. The night-time lows have been relatively high since then. Perennials usually require a hard freeze, several hours of temperatures in the 27 to 28 degrees F range, to shut down for the season. The National Weather Service is predicting lows in the low- to mid-30s to low-40s this week, with highs in the mid-50s to mid-60s on Thursday. Who knows what will be blooming next.
Maybe it’s the heavy rains we have had this fall or a sign of global warming, but I’m finding surprising things blooming. Yesterday, I discovered new blooms on an English Larkspur (Delphinium elatum ‘Pagan Purples’). I bought the larkspur late in the spring in hopes of getting taller flowers in the back of my front bed. According to the plant tag, this particular variety is supposed to grow 5 to 6 feet tall. (Other sources say 4 to 5 feet.) Unfortunately, right after I planted it, the weather turned very dry and I got very busy and neglectful of the garden. It died–or so I thought. Even though it had wilted right to the ground, a new plant emerged after I got around to watering the flowers more. It bloomed a couple of times in the summer, and now in mid-October. It never got tall–perhaps due to its difficult youth–but its still a lovely plant.
This morning, I noticed my catmint (Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’) had several new blooms on it, too. Walker’s Low is known as a prolific bloomer, and I cut mine back after its first bloom in June to promote a second round of flowers. I expected them earlier or not at all.
It’s hard to know how to react to blooms in mid-October–part of me wants to rejoice. And, it’s certainly possible that the dry spell we had in July and August delayed blooms that would have appeared earlier had adequate rain fallen. Now it’s wet and not too cold so the plants bloom. Another part of me feels a little spooked by this much blooming so late.
Felicia Parsons, a horticulturist and writer, whose also a jeweler, wrote an excellent article on gardening with climate change in the July/August issue of Northern Gardener. She noted that the American Horticulture Society’s heat map (based on how many days over 86 degrees F an area has) shows a distinct zone creep over the USDA’s zone map, which is based largely on how cold things get. The Arbor Day Foundation has also released a zone map showing that Minnesota is getting warmer.
For gardeners, Felicia offers some advice: If you are deciding what to plant, plant what has always worked or try less hardy shrubs and perennials, but be prepared to take a loss if the weather gets back to “normal.” If you are concerned about global warming, do what you can to diminish your energy consumption (buy efficient appliances and better lightbulbs, drive less, plant a tree near the house to provide shade and reduce your need for air conditioning, compost) and watch what is happening in your own garden. Several web sites have been established for people to report changes they see in the plants and wildlife in their area, including this site from an organization in Wisconsin. This blog will be my report on what’s happening in my garden. Let me know what you see in yours.
I have just dodged a garden bullet. Earlier this week, I wandered into a nursery having a big plant sale. I was specifically looking for a plant with variegated foliage to brighten up one of my backyard beds. This has been a difficult bed to make attractive. It has too many shrubs in it, the light is a mixed–deep shade in the morning, then full sun in the afternoon, then more shade. It has also been the scene of many battles between me and a particularly wily gopher. Too many smoke bombs have been set off beneath this bed’s soil, and it shows. A small digression: In battling gophers, forget about smoke bombs and poisons; instead, find yourself a neighbor who can shoot a BB gun or set traps, or learn to do it yourself.
Two years ago, I planted Lamium ‘White Nancy’, a pretty green and white groundcover in this bed. It has slowly spread, and it really lights up an otherwise drab area. I wanted something like that. In the nursery, I spotted a large selection of a pale green and white plant. It looked particularly healthy for so late in the season, with a mass of 6-inch tall stems with leaves on top as well as a few poking out of the holes of the pot. I liked the name, Snow on the Mountain, and picked up three pots. When checking out, I asked the clerk if the plant could handle significant sun. “Oh, don’t worry,” she said, “This plant can handle just about anything.” Do you think she was trying to tell me something?
Before planting, I decided to get some information on my lovely new plant so I could share it in this blog. Good thing, too, because I had just purchased a plant that is considered invasive in Wisconsin and a little dangerous everywhere else. Snow on the Mountain (Aegopodium Podagraria ‘variegata’ ) is also called Bishop’s weed or goutweed and is a useful for covering big areas that won’t support much else, such as under trees. It’s also good in contained planters, such as these shown on the U of M’s web site. But for most gardeners it’s just too hardy and getting rid of it is darn near impossible.
For now, the potential invaders are sitting in their pots outside my garage–where new sprouts are popping out of the pot holes everyday. Next time, I’ll do my research before going to the nursery.
Normally these asters are my favorite fall flower. When they were planted eight years ago, I did not know much about perennials. I got the asters along with a couple of dozen other perennials at an end of season closeout. The next year, I watched the plant all summer thinking, “When is that darn thing going to do something? Is it a flower or a weed?” Then, one September day, I looked out the window and “Wow,” the color was amazing.
Now, it’s looking wimpy. It definitely has a fungus. I could spray, but I try not to use a lot of fungicides in the yard, so I’m going to take the low-tech approach. As soon as it finishes blooming, I’ll cut down the foliage completely, and throw it away in the garbage–not the compost. Because the plant was looking sickly, I consulted my perennial Bible, Growing Perennials in Cold Climates by Mike Heger and John Whitman. Mike is a contributor to Northern Gardener and also owner of Ambergate Gardens in Victoria, MN.
Mike and John recommend dividing asters every year or two. Mine have never been divided. So after I finish cutting them back, I’ll probably divide the crown and move it to the plant holding bed I’m setting up in the backyard. Plants sometimes benefit from moving around, so I’m going to move the asters to a different location in the garden next spring. We’ll see if that perks up their bloom.
It’s September, so every garden I know of is bursting with Clara Curtis daisies. These pretty fall bloomers are a member of what was once the chrysanthemum family. (It’s been broken up by plant scientists and classifiers, and these are in the Dendranthema genus now.) Whatever their scientific name, these hardy mums are incredibly easy to grow. They also spread. About four years ago, I bought one plant. I now have Clara Curtis daisies in four flower beds. I can’t bear to get rid of them because just when other parts of the garden start to look droopy, these guys burst into their pink and yellow glory. Many of the catalogs and plant web sites will say Clara Curtis daisies bloom from June on, but not around here. They always wait until September.