How to Revive Midsummer Garden Flowers

How to Revive Midsummer Garden Flowers

The neverending summer heat, especially here in the Midwest, stresses garden flowers and potted plants as well as the people that care for them. Formerly vibrant containers of calibrachoa, petunias, marigolds, gaillardia, salvias, zinnias, and other annuals, can start to look pretty drab by August without intervention. Plenty of perennials will also pop back and either rebloom or form attractive foliage.  Some gardeners may think, “Who wants to go out in the nineties and work on plants past their prime?” Don’t make this mistake. If you give certain garden flowers a little reviving boost, they will look great until fall.

Start by Avoiding the Heat

Morning is the coolest time of the day to work in the garden.

Care for your flowers in comfort by avoiding midday temperatures. When you are at ease, so are your garden plants. Go outside from early to mid-morning when it is coolest. Drink a glass of icy water before going out, and keep another on hand outdoors. Decide how long you can stay in the hazy, humid jungle before feeling overheated. For me, this usually turns out to be for an hours from 8:00 to 9:00 AM, and no longer, since this is all I can tolerate at one time. On the hottest days, I also use an ice pack around my neck, which is a big help.  These are easy to find online and well worth the money.

Trimming Back and Deadheading Annuals Midseason

When petunias start to become leggy and flower less, cut stems back by one third to three quarters to encourage a new flush of flowers. (Images by Jessie Keith)

Trim Midseason – Most annuals can be brought back to their former glory with only a little bit of work. Whether in containers or the garden, many need to be cut back, especially calibrachoa and petunias. Cut leggy stems back by one third to three quarters, and they will pop right back. (Click here for a detailed overview of cutting back petunias and calibrachoa.)

The need to trim also holds true for marigolds, zinnias, verbena, salvias, and annual dianthus, as a general rule, only cut these back by one quarter to one third. They should bounce back quickly and look beautiful for the rest of the season. Follow up with selective deadheading as needed.

For taller garden annuals, such as cosmos and amaranths, cut them back by half, and in only one week or two, they start putting out new flower stems. The plants will look bushier and bloom once more.

Deadhead Regularly – For compact marigolds, tall zinnias, dahlias, annual salvias, and flowering geraniums, only remove the spent flowers. Remove larger dead flowers one by one and shear off lots of smaller spent blooms. You may lose a few buds in the shearing process, but you will gain loads more.

Pinch off coleus buds. If you let them flower, the attractive foliage will suffer, and the plants will lose their good looks.

Pinch Buds Regularly – There are foliage plants that also require regular deadheading to keep their leaves looking beautiful. Coleus is the most popular garden annual that suffers from flowering. When plants flower, they put energy towards blooms rather than pretty leaves, and the plants instantly start to lose their good looks. So, remove their flower buds on sight.

Trimming Back and Deadheading Perennials Midseason

When blanket flower goes to seed, it loses its beauty, but it will look beautiful again by simply removing the old flowers and giving it a light trim. (Images by Jessie Keith)

Perennials are a bit different. Quite a few will also rebloom, but some won’t, so it pays to know what will provide more flowers with trimming and deadheading and what won’t. With that said, even perennials that don’t rebloom will respond well to trimming by providing an attractive flush of new foliage, which helps keep gardens looking their best. Here are some reliable rebloomers.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora) has pretty, colorful daisy flowers that turn to round, tan seedheads after blooming. Keep these seedheads cutback. Another method is to wait until they are almost finished blooming and then shear the plant back by one third.

Catmint and perennial salvia (Nepeta hybrids and Salvia hybrids) send out long stems with violet-blue or purple flowers. Over time, those of many varieties tend to sprawl. (One exception is Cat’s Pajamas, which has tidy, upright stems of flowers.) Eventually, catmints stop blooming heavily, and their stems get ratty looking. At this point, cut back to the base clump, and new stems will start growing and flowering in a matter of weeks.

The spent flower stems of catmint should be cut all the way back. The small rosette of fresh green foliage that is left should grow and rebloom, if watered and fertilized. (Images by Jessie Keith)

Coneflowers (Echinacea species and hybrids) respond well to more than one method of pruning. One can wait for them to almost complete flowering and then cut the whole plant cut back–one third for the smaller varieties and one half for the taller ones reaching 3 feet or more. New flower buds should appear in just a couple of weeks. Another method is to selectively deadhead as each flower dies. Towards the end of the season, be sure to allow plenty of flowerheads to dry. Their seeds are an excellent food for finches and other songbirds.

Hardy geraniums (Geranium spp. and hybrids) vary in their ability to rebloom. Newer varieties that rebloom need to be cut back by one third after their flowers start to wane. Common garden varieties, such as blood geranium (Geranium sanguineum), will not rebloom. Still, their old foliage needs to be cut back by three quarters to encourage new growth, which forms a pretty green mound of leaves that turn red to orange-red in fall.

Ox-eye daisy (Heliopsis helianthoides) is a favorite of mine that reaches 5 to 6 feet tall if you let it. But, if you cut the summer bloomer back by half in late spring, it will produce a shorter plant with better branching and more flowers. Mine bloom from July to August. Occasional light deadheading will encourage further blooms. Unlike the closely related black-eyed Susan, which spreads rapidly by seeds, ox-eye daisy does not aggressively self-sow.

Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata varieties) is another flower that responds well to being cut back by one third after the first flowers of the season start to die away and going to seed. A quick trim will have them producing many bright flowers on new stems in no time.  I have lots of lavender, pink, and white phlox that get up to 3 feet tall.  All reliably rebloom after being cut back.

By removing the brown, spend flower stems of this yarrow ‘Moonshine’, the clump’s silver foliage can shine through, and new flowers emerge. Images by Jessie Keith)

Yarrow (Achillea hybrids) have rosettes of feathery leaves that send up tall stems of blooms in early to midsummer summer.  After the display of flowers stop, cut the plants back by two thirds, and new flowering stems will quickly appear. Newer varieties tend to be the best rebloomers.

Tickseed (Coreopsis species and hybrids) come in lots of varieties, but all produce many daisy flowers of yellow, orange, or rose in summer. Some of the most common are those of threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata), which have lacy leaves, lots of small, bright daisies, and do well in full sun. Depending on the variety, plants can reach 12 to 32 inches. By midsummer, they will have gone to seed. Shear them back by one third to produce a new wave of blooms by late summer.

Reblooming daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrids)-  There are many reliable reblooming daylilies on the market. The most reliable for all-summer bloom that I have found is is ‘Happy Returns’.  It has bright yellow flowers and reaches just 2 feet tall. After it has stopped flowering in early to midsummer, either remove all of the spent flower stems and selectively remove any dead or dying foliage, or cut the clump back by 1/3 to encourage new flowers. Either way, they will rebloom and look great in just weeks.

All these perennials are drought tolerant, once established, and loved by butterflies. Aside from tall phlox and daylilies, they are deer resistant as well.

Increase Care After Pruning

All plants, whether in pots or the soil, require regular water, and all need to be fertilized generously with a slow-release fertilizer for the best results. Top-dressing beds and containers with a little Black Gold Garden Compost Blend can increase fertility and soil water-holding capacity, so it also helps. The addition of Black Gold Just Coir to containers will increase their ability to hold water, which can reduce the need to water. Keep the care up, and you will be pleased with the final results. Time to get to work!

We encourage you to watch the following video by my daughter that details how to trim back daylilies, salvia, and more!

Author’s note: Do not cut back Hosta leaves to promote new ones.  Unlike other perennials, the new small leaves that would appear, are next year’s leaves and will weaken the plant for the following spring.

The Best Container Plants for July Heat

The Best Container Plants for July Heat

It is July, and there are so many plants in bloom on my deck that it is like a bonanza of color. It is so relaxing to sit there and be surrounded by containers that are bursting with flowers and watching the hummingbirds aggressively guard their territory.  There are also honeybees and bumblebees, as well as an occasional dragonfly.

In my containers, there are some plants that I always seem to repeat every year because they perform so well, and I don’t want to be without them. My deck receives quite a bit of sun throughout the day, including hot afternoon sun. That means the plants need to tolerate some hot conditions, and I have learned throughout the years which plants perform best.

Bonfire Begonia

Begonia Bonfire® is an outstanding nonstop bloomer. (Image care of Anthony Tesselaar Plants)

While we often think of begonias as being shade-loving plants, Begonia Bonfire® has been an excellent summer-blooming plant for our sunny deck. The summerlong flowers of bright orange fit the name, Bonfire®. Hummingbirds like them, and it has a trailing habit that makes it excellent for hanging baskets and tall containers. I have planted three of these begonias in the center of a pot with white Bacopa (Snowstorm® Snow Globe® Bacopa is a good choice) around the edge. The two make a nice combination.

Two Sweet Salvias

Proven Winners Rockin’® Fuchsia Salvia is a nonstop summer bloomer loved by hummingbirds. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Two salvias from the Proven Winners® brand are on my deck this summer, and they are both outstanding. Rockin’® Fuchsia Salvia (Zones 9-11) is a compact grower (24 to 36 inches) that is excellent for containers. The flowers themselves are dark fuchsia and supported by stems of lighter fuchsia. At the base of each flower is a persistent, beak-like calyx that is dark fuchsia, so when each flower fades and falls, the stems and calyces continue to provide color. The other salvia is Rockin’® Blue Suede Shoes (Zones 9-11), and, as the name implies, it has blue flowers. The stems and calyces on this are very dark, almost black. Hummingbirds seem to like both salvias equally.

Suncredible Sunflower

You can’t go wrong with the 2- to 4-foot Suncredible® Yellow Sunflower. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Another Proven Winners® plant on my deck that is new to me, is the annual Suncredible® Yellow Sunflower, which reaches just 2 to 4 feet. I first saw this in a trial garden last summer and knew that the following year it would be in my garden. It is a new type of sunflower that is very compact, everblooming, sterile, and loves the heat. The plants were in bloom when I bought them in May and have never stopped flowering. Sunflowers offer a bright spot of color, and each plant is covered in blooms.

Candy Corn Plant

Candy corn plant has unusual tubular flowers that are visited by hummingbirds. (Image by Mike Darcy)

If ever there was a bold container plant that was a prolific bloomer, hummingbird magnet, and heat-lover it would be candy corn plant (Cuphea micropetala, Zones 8-11). While not reliably winter hardy here, mine came through our mild winter. Earlier this season, it was scraggly, and a grower friend told me to cut it back halfway, which I did. Usually, they reach up to 3 feet or more, but the result has been a beautiful looking, very compact plant. Because I cut it back so far, it was late to bloom, but it is beautiful now. Its small tubular flowers are orange with yellow tips and held on stems that are almost like spikes. Flowering continues all summer.

Cleopatra Canna

Canna ‘Cleopatra’ is spectacular leaves with purple markings that look great even when there are no flowers. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Cannas are primarily known for their foliage and flowers, but my Canna ‘Cleopatra’ (Zones 8-11) has outstanding leaves–no flowers required. The large leaves have dark maroon markings that appear at random. Some leaves might have maroon stripes, while others might be half maroon. The red and yellow summer flowers are also impressive, and their coloring is as random as the leaves. I like the standard 4- to 6-foot variety in big pots, but gardeners that prefer more compact plants can buy dwarf Canna ‘Cleopatra’, which reaches just 3 feet.

Big Container Bananas

Red banana is a very large container plant that needs an equally large container, but what a show! (Image by Mike Darcy)

I would be remiss without mentioning my three potted red leaf bananas (Musa ensete ‘Maurelii’ (syn. Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’). These are in large pots because they grow so fast and get so big in just one season. They are not winter hardy, so each must be newly planted in spring. This year’s specimens were about three feet tall, and by the end of the summer they will be 8-10 ft tall. The large tropical leaves are tinged with red and have dark red leafstalks. It is an outstanding foliage plant. The large leaves can be shredded by the wind, so keep it in a wind-sheltered area.

Other gardeners certainly have their own lists of the best container plants for July heat, but these are my favorites for our summers in the Pacific Northwest. I enjoy sharing mine with neighborhood gardeners and learning what they are growing as well. Just walking around the neighborhood and looking at hot, sunny garden spots tells me what plants are performing. My list also grows. It is always fun to try something new, and this year the salvias and sunflower were my choices.

Enjoy the height of summer!

When Is It Safe To Plant Summer Annuals?

When Is It Safe To Plant Summer Annuals?

“When is it safe to plant summer annuals? Should I wait until after Mother’s Day to plant my marigolds, petunias, and other annuals?  I live in Central Ohio.” Question from Diane of Newark, Ohio

Answer: Always plant warm-season annuals, like petunias and marigolds, after the threat of frost has passed. To do this, you need to know your last frost date. The Old Farmer’s Almanac provides this data. Every gardener should know both their first and last frost dates for the growing season. Here is the data that is yielded when I search using your Zipcode:


Nearest Climate Station Altitude Last Spring Frost First Fall Frost Growing Season
NEWARK WATER WKS, OH 836′ May 4 Oct 6 154 days


To be safe, I always plant at least a week after my last frost date–especially if the weather has been temperamental. When planting your flowers, be sure to feed them with a fertilizer formulated for flowering plants, such as Proven Winners® Continuous Release Plant Food, and amend the soil with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend or Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss to improve its structure and fertility

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do I Keep My Coleus Looking Its Best?

“I always grow coleus in containers in the summer.  They are beautiful and usually do wonderfully well. This year I have wide-leaf coleus in my large, rectangular containers.  I have two questions.  1) How often do you recommend fertilizing them?  2) They are producing large purple flowers.  Should I clip the flowers to make the plant grow better, or is it okay to leave the flowers alone to enjoy their beauty?  Many thanks for the help!” Question from Diane of Neward, Ohio

Answer: Coleus are truly foliar plants. Their wands of lavender-blue flowers can be appealing, but if you allow the plants to flower and set seed, the leaves will wane and become smaller and less robust and beautiful. This is because the plants are putting energy into flower and seed production rather than leaf growth. For this reason, gardeners must deadhead coleus plants to keep their foliage looking lush and lovely. Simply pinch off all of the buds as you see them to stop flowering.

Nitrogen is the chief nutrient that encourages healthy foliar growth. To encourage leafier growth, choose a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, such as Foliage Pro.  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for feeding, because feeding times differ from product to product. You will also get less flowering if you grow your coleus in full to partial shade.

It also pays to use a quality potting mix or garden amendment that’s rich in organic matter and has a boost of fertilizer. I recommend Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix for potted specimens and Black Gold® Garden Soil for in-ground plantings.

I hope that these tips help and keep your coleus looking their best this season! As an aside, the image above is one of my container coleus plants, which has been pinched back and kept in partial shade to encourage super lush foliage!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Can I Plant Annuals and Vegetables Together?

Can you plant annual flowers and vegetables in the same raised bed? Question from Diane or Newark, Ohio

Answer: Sure! In many cases, annuals can be beneficial to vegetables by warding off pests (click here to read about the protective power of marigolds) and/or attract pollinators. Compact flowers that will not compete for too much sunlight or water are best.  Here are some of my favorite flowers to plant in my vegetable garden for beauty, cut flowers, and to feed pollinators. These sun-lovers are all effortless to grow.

  1. Cosmos (dwarf): The pretty daisy flowers of these annuals are good for cutting and attract bees. Try the compact varieties Sonata Mix (2-feet high) or the fully double pink ‘Rose Bonbon‘ (2 to 3-feet high).
  2. Calendula: These cheerful yellow or orange daisies are grown as herbs as well as flowers because they have edible petals that can be used to make tea or soothing balms.
  3. Dahlias: There are hundreds of amazing dahlias to choose from and all make excellent cut flowers. Bees and butterflies also love them. Choose compact varieties for easier care. Check out Swan Island Dahlias to choose the best dahlia for your taste.
  4. Marigolds: I love tall marigolds in the vegetable garden. The large flowers look pretty through summer, and these Mexican natives just thrive in the heat. ‘Kee’s Orange’ is a brilliant variety with deepest orange flowers.
  5. Compact Sunflowers: There are loads of spectacular sunflowers for the garden, and all are very easy to grow from seed. I suggest choosing compact varieties because they won’t shade out vegetables or fall over in wind. (Click here to learn all about growing sunflowers.)
  6. Zinnias: Any tall or medium-sized zinnia will add color and cut flowers to your garden. Check out the new Zinnia ‘Zinderella Purple’ or  Zinnia ‘Queeny Orange Lime’. Both are beautiful and some of the easiest flowers that you can grow from seed.

Try adding any of these pretty annuals to your vegetable garden this season for functional color.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist



I Need Flower Design Help for My Sunny Kentucky Garden

“I have a large area to plant flowers in that gets full sun but I am not sure what design and mixture to use.” Question from Karen of Cannon, Kentucky

Answer: Most garden flowers grow best in fertile soil with excellent drainage. I recommend working up your soil to increase aeration and adding a fertile blend of compost (Black Gold Garden Compost Blend) and peat moss (Black Gold Peat Moss) to ensure they get off to a great start. Adding a slow-release fertilizer formulated for flowers will also help them grow and perform at their best. It may also be wise to get your soil tested for pH. The University of Kentucky does soil testing.

Creating Flower Beds

As far as design, the finest flower gardens edge the periphery of key yard spaces, such as home foundations, fencelines, patios, shrub borders or other signification structural areas of your yard. Flower borders such as these can be designed in straight lines, which provide a classic, formal look, or sweeping curves that give a garden space a more full, curvaceous look.

Finishing Flower Beds

Once you have laid our your bed lines, edge them well. A clean bed edge acts as a frame for your garden. (Click here to read more about different bed edges). A layer of fine mulch will also make your flower garden look professional. (Click here to learn more about different garden mulches.)

Flower Design

I recommend planting taller perennials towards the back or centers of the flower garden while leaving space for ground-covering perennials and colorful annuals towards the front of the beds. It is also essential to consider flower color and bloom time when designing with flowers. Dot the garden with flowers in complementary colors that are pleasing to your aesthetic preferences. Then consider bloom time: choose bulbs and perennials for spring, flowers for early summer, and flowers for late-summer and fall. That way, your garden will never look dull and colorless. Everblooming annuals will extend the floral effect.

Choose flowers that are best suited for the heat of your Kentucky summers. Hellebores and bulbs are great for the early season; salvias, daylilies, baptisia, and perennial geraniums are perfect for early summer; coneflowers, perennial blanket flower, tall phlox, and black-eyed-Susans are great for midsummer; and great fall perennials include goldenrods, asters, and Japanese anemones. (Click here to read more about the best garden asters.) Bold, ornamental, perennial grasses also look great in perennial borders.

I hope that this helps!

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


When Do I Start My Garden Seeds?

“How early can I start seeds in lower Michigan? Question from William of Southgate, Michigan

Answer: It depends on whether you are growing, annuals, perennials, summer vegetables or spring vegetables. Here’s what I suggest for your USDA Hardiness Zone 6 planting area. (These suggestions may also apply to other gardeners, based on their own specific seasonal planting windows.)

Spring Vegetables: I recommend starting cool-season broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, and spring onion seeds indoors as early as late January, or a month and a half before the spring soil can be worked. Arugula, beets, cilantro, spring carrots, peas, radishes, and turnips should all be starting in-ground as soon as the soil can be worked. Be sure to amend the soil well with compost, label rows, and cover newly planted seeds with a light layer of compost before watering them in. Keep them just moist and they should sprout as the soil gets warmer.

Summer Vegetables: Warm-season vegetables and herbs, like basil, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos, should be started indoors as early as the start of February, or three or more months before planting them outdoors. [Click here for an article about growing tomatoes from seed.] Fast-growing cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash can be planted indoors or out. I prefer starting outdoors in well-amended beds after the threat of frost has passed. Beans, corn, okra, and summer beets (click here for a beet-growing video) and carrots can be started by seed outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. (Click here to search for the average frost date in your area.)

Perennials: If growing any perennials from seed, start them as early as January. Once they are ready to plant in late spring, they should be large enough for outdoor planting. Keep in mind that many perennials won’t bloom first year from seed, while others will. [Click here to read an article about easy-to-start perennials that will bloom first year from seed.]

Annuals: Wait until February to start flowering annuals and March or April to start vining annuals, which often grow very quickly and can take over your indoor growing area. To learn more, watch the video below for annual seed-starting tips.

Happy seed starting!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What is the Difference Between an Annual and Perennial?

“What is the difference between an annual and a perennial?” Question from Christina of Wheeling, Illinois

Answer: These terms refer to the life cycles of non-woody or herbaceous (leafy) plants. Here are detailed explanations of both.


Annuals live once a year, meaning they sprout, grow, bloom, set seed and die within one growing season. It’s easy to remember because the word annual means occurring once every year.

Many true annuals flower and set seed over a short period of time. The herb borage (Borago officinalis), is a perfect example of a short-lived annual. It grows in the cool spring, blooms in late spring or early summer and then quickly dies. Other annuals will bloom all season long before finally dying in fall. Common cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) and tall zinnias (Zinnia elegans) are two annuals that bloom through much of the growing season.


Perennials live for three seasons or more. The word perennial means continually recurring, and these plants recur for a number of years, some for over 100 years.

Perennials have sturdy root systems that store lots of energy. These plants die to the ground during the winter months (though some, like hellebores (Helleborus spp.), may remain evergreen through winter) and have buds that rest along the soil surface or below the soil. When spring arrives, these buds sprout and new leaves emerge.

Perennial bloom times vary widely. Some may bloom in late winter while others may wait to bloom until the very end of fall. Still, others may bloom through much of the summer. That’s why it is important to know the bloom times of your perennials before planting. Cold hardiness also varies from perennial to perennial, so make sure a plant is hardy to your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone before buying.

Some perennials are short-lived surviving three to four years, while others, like peonies (Paeonia spp.), can live for over 100 years.

I hope this information helps!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Mike Darcy’s Favorite Fall Trees and Flowers

This Stewartia pseudocamellia is in fall color.

The fall season is upon us and what a glorious time of year it is. As I walk around my neighborhood and drive around Portland, the many deciduous trees are turning brilliant shades of color. The more brilliant they are, the better.

Favorite Fall Trees

Stewartia pseudocamellia seed pods, L Foltz 2014
Stewartia pseudocamellia seed pods

Many maples are turning red, some are orange, and others are shades of yellow.  The Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) trees are turning golden yellow, and our summer annuals are telling us that their time is almost over.  Sometimes we can have a tree that gives us scarlet fall foliage as well as beautiful seed pods.  Stewartia pseudocamellia is just such a tree. Mine is planted in my front yard where it takes center stage.



Salvia splendens Saucy™ Red
Salvia splendens Saucy™ Red looks great well into fall.

Yet, there is still much color in the garden, not only from foliage but from flowers as well.  In my own garden, I am quite a Salvia fan and always willing to try new varieties.  This past spring I purchased Salvia splendens Saucy™ Red, and I was rather disappointed with it in summer.  It did not flower well compared to my Salvia guaranitica ‘Black & Blue’.  Well, I had a very pleasant surprise this September. Evidently, Saucy™ Red likes cooler weather, shorter day-length, or maybe both, because it burst into full bloom and has continued ever since.  It is mid-October, and the 7-foot-tall plant has burnished scarlet flowers on almost every stem. Sadly, the tender plants are only hardy to USDA Zones 9-10, so I will have to replant if I want to enjoy this Salvia again.

Impatiens tinctoria

Impatiens tinctoria
Impatiens tinctoria is an unusual garden flower that looks great in fall.

Another new garden flower this year is the 8-foot-tall, large-flowered, Impatiens tinctoria, which comes from the rain forests of East Africa.  I had first seen it growing in a friend’s garden three years ago and was surprised to learn that it is a winter hardy perennial, surviving USDA Zones 7-11.  This is my second year to grow it, and I learned that it likes grows best in shade with protection from the hot afternoon sun. In the spring, I worked lots of humus into the soil around it and mixed in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. Today my plants are over 6 feet tall and blooming with a flower that does not look anything like a garden impatiens.  These flowers are fragrant at night and attract much attention from garden visitors.

Cover Crops

Now is the time of year to put the summer vegetable garden to bed.  The tomatoes are finished, as well as the beans, squash, peppers, etc.  Once these plants are removed, it is an ideal time to prepare the soil for next season.  Mix Black Gold® Garden Soil 0.05 – 0.02 -0.05 into the beds and plant a cover crop. Cover crops are broadcast legumes, or grasses such as buckwheat, that are planted to cover the garden in winter and are tilled under in spring.

BG_GRDNSOIL_1CF-FRONTLegumes are plants in the Pea Family (Fabaceae) and include clovers and vetches. With the help of symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobium, they “fix” nitrogen from the air back into the soil, making it available to other plants.  Thus, by planting a cover crop, you increase the nitrogen level of your soil while also protecting your beds from erosion and aggressive winter weeds. The added organic matter from the spring-tilled cover crop with also benefit your garden soil.

We always get some “sunny windows” during this season.  These windows give us a wonderful opportunity to get out in the garden and do fall chores.  Fall is also a great time to “edit” your garden.  We all have plants that have gotten too big, are in the wrong place, or maybe we are tired of them.  Walk around your garden with a note pad and make notes on garden editing that you can do throughout winter.  But, most importantly, enjoy the season and its many colors.

Salvias for Fall-Migrating Hummingbirds

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

Hummingbirds rely on the nectar of many fall-blooming salvias to assist in their late-season migration. The striking beauty, bright colors, and architectural statures of these plants also make them great for the garden. Most cultivated salvias are from Mexico and the Southwest United States, which is why pollinators migrating south are attracted to them. Their relationship is mutually beneficial; the flowers feed the birds and the birds pollinate the flowers.

Fall Salvias

Nonstop flowers of red, pink, or white appear on Salvia coccinea (Texas sage, 1-3′ tall, zones 8-10) starting in midsummer. These will continue well into frost and draw lots of hummingbirds. Deadheading old flower stalks will keep plants looking clean and attractive.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

The Brazilian red velvet sage (Salvia confertiflora, 4-6′ tall, zones 9-11) blooms with delicate spikes of tiny velvety red flowers. It is also bushy and large, reaching 4 to 5’ in height. Though its flowers feed tropical hummingbirds, they are also perfect for migrating North American species. They bloom from midsummer to season’s end. Just be sure give this plant lots of space.

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans, 3-4′ tall, zones 8-10) is an enormous, bushy sage best known for its aromatic leaves that smell of sweet pineapple. Its scarlet fall flowers make a spectacular show starting in early fall. The popular cultivar ‘Golden Delicious’ boasts outstanding golden leaf color all season long.

Autumn sage (Salvia greggii, 1-3′ tall, zones 6-9) blooms for much of the season but offers a strong fall flush of red, orange-red, white, pink, and purple flowers. Native to South Texas and Mexico, it is an essential wildflower for migrating hummingbirds. In its native form, it also looks nice in the garden. Cut late-summer stems back to keep this open but bushy perennial looking great.

Salvia leucantha 'All Purple' JaKMPM
Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha ‘All Purple’) (Image by Jessie Keith)

Height and elegance make Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage, 2-3′ tall, zones 8-10) one of the most outstanding fall salvias for large spaces. Streamers of soft, velvety flowers in shades of pink, purple, magenta, and white emerge on stems lined with silvery leaves in late summer and continue through fall. When not in bloom, its leaves still add visual flair.

Unique primrose-yellow flower color and long floral stems make forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis, 6-8’ tall, zones 7-11) a true architectural gem for the fall border. The enormous plant requires lots of room but looks great when well-placed in the landscape. Blooming starts in mid-fall and continues up until frost.

Growing Fall Salvias

All of these salvias are sun-loving and can take the heat, though they really shine in the cool of autumn. Plant them in spring for full effect, but also keep an eye out for large potted specimens to fit into late-summer beds. Before planting, amend the ground with Black Gold Garden Soil. Its mix of peat moss and compost makes for rich soil to support good growth.

Most of these salvias are tender, meaning they should be grown as annuals, but some are perennial where winters are mild. Fall-migrating hummingbirds and other pollinators will thank you for planting these gorgeous fall flowers, and your gardens will be none worse for the wear.

Salvia leucantha ‘All Purple’ appears in the background of a fall annual border, which also contains Lantana camara and Petunia Supertunia® Royal Magenta. (Image by Jessie Keith)