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September 24, 2012
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September, October perennials begin new season of color

Some gardens may look spent at the end of a long, hot summer, but with good landscape planning, the shorter days may be the beginning of fresh color.

A native that begins its show of scarlet flowers in late August and continues through September and into October is California fuchsia, Epilobium (previously classified botanically as Zauschneria). Because of the many species and cultivars available, it’s possible to add bright deer-resistant color for weeks.

The taller cultivars have strong, erect stems with multiple flowers opening in succession. In fullest bloom, it is a blaze of scarlet flowers, all the more vibrant in contrast to the silver stems and leaves. Hummingbirds are frequent visitors.

Like most plants with gray or silver leaves, California fuchsia does not need much irrigation. Winter drainage is especially important. Place plants where there will be winter sun and full sun during the growing season. Low-growing cultivars are good bank covers.

The native plant sale next weekend (Sept. 29) will be a place to find Epilobium. The sale will take place at the North Star property off Auburn Road, beginning at 9 a.m. Earliest shoppers have first choice, which is a solid reason for becoming a California Native Plant Society Redbud member. Then you can begin shopping at 8 a.m. Remember that fall is the perfect planting season.

In the irrigated garden, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ blossom clusters open pale rosy-pink by mid-September. In the next few weeks, the hue will transition to rosy-pink, then deepen to a rich rose before turning brown, a color that will hold for many weeks into winter. Like all the hardy sedums, the juicy, succulent leaves are a deer favorite.

Near the Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ in my garden, the purple-blue flowers of the early September New England aster ‘Barr’s Blue’ are finishing their show this week, and attention turns to the Aster novae-angliae ‘Harrington Pink’ just appearing, the last of the asters to brighten my fall garden. Cultural requirements for the sedum and the asters is the same: plenty of compost, full summer sun and regular irrigation. Plus protection from the deer!

Another September-October bloomer with needs similar to Sedum and Aster is the false dragonhead, Physostegia virginiana. However, it is such an aggressive spreader that I give it a space all its own. ‘Vivid’ is the cultivar grown for its lilac-pink flowers with tall, strong stems perfect for cutting. The white cultivar has a lovely bloom, but stems are not as sturdy, so this perennial tends to have a sprawling habit.

The last blaze of color in Alyce Hammond’s Clark Street garden in Grass Valley spills over and through a white picket fence with abandon, large gold daisies glowing until the sunsets. This uncommon perennial is Helianthus angustifolia, often available in local nurseries. In my garden, deer do not touch the foliage, which is a rich dark green during the summer months. As September approaches, sturdy stalks lengthen to as much as four or five feet. Bloom continues through most of October.

In shade gardens, the cultivars of windflower or Japanese anemone (Anemone japonica) bring fresh blooms to the fall season with single white or pale pink and double rosy-pink cultivars. All are strong spreaders. Another perennial, hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica) blooms all summer, non-stop into fall, inviting hummingbirds even as days shorten.

With a bit of planning, late bloomers can be the strength of your fall garden, a prelude to the changing leaf colors that will soon dominate the local landscapes.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in the foothills since 1977. She will be teaching a class on fall gardening and landscaping from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. today at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply 272-4769. A class schedule and past articles may be found at

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The Union Updated Sep 24, 2012 05:04PM Published Sep 26, 2012 07:07AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.