By now, you have had nearly the entire season to enjoy your garden. But like most gardeners, I bet you’re disappointed in a few plants and maybe even lost some along the way. You’re in luck as fall is an excellent time to plant. I know that sounds a little wacky, considering the mad frenzy each spring brings to buy and install plants. So let’s examine what happens in fall.
For gardeners, there are real advantages. It’s cooler in fall, making it easier to work outside in cool temps. Rain is usually more plentiful in the fall, easing the burden to irrigate your new plants. Bugs and diseases are usually on the wane in the fall, again making it a more pleasant job for gardeners. Fall weather is usually consistently better, giving you more days to plant and get the job done. For your plants, keep in mind that soil temperature is the biggest driver of root growth and that fall soil is the warmest it can be. That gives roots a nice comfy place to settle in and thrive in that warm soil. Add to that some research data that supports that fall planted trees, shrubs, and perennials get off to a better start and deliver better and stronger plants the following year vs. those planted in the spring of the same year.
I tell you all of this so you can focus some of your energy and time on getting the new plants you know your garden needs. Plus, you may have the opportunity to acquire shrubs and perennials which many garden centers and mail-order suppliers put on sale. They don’t want to overwinter them and that lets you take advantage of their inventory management practice to reduce prices as the season wanes.
Which ones, though, should you consider? That answer depends on what garden gap you need to fill: sunny? shady? wet? dry? deer resistant? There are several sources that can help you make the decision on what to buy. One source is the huge array of plants trialed by All-America Selections (AAS). The AAS mission is to promote new garden varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America. AAS winners are Tested Nationally & Proven Locally™ so you know they will work in your garden. The National Garden Bureau publicizes these winners including a very handy searchable database with options from “Annuals” to “Pollinator Friendly.” And if you miss that, the plants that win the coveted award carry the AAS emblem on their plant tags to distinguish them from other plants you may see.
If you are on the hunt for roses, a solid source is the Biltmore International Rose Trials. Since 2011, Biltmore’s historic Rose Garden has been home to the trials in which more than 150 varieties from growers and breeders worldwide have been planted and cared for by Biltmore’s expert horticulturists. Each trial lasts two years and a permanent jury judges the roses four times a year. A point of interest here is that the Biltmore roses are “no spray” roses that get minimal care. They are judged on innate disease and pest resistance, as well as drought tolerance. The most recent results are from 2018 as this year’s final judging won’t occur until later in the season. Last year’s Most Outstanding Rose of the Trials was Princesse Charlene De Monaco.
The winner in the climbing rose category was Highwire Flyer. It also took the award for Best Growth Habit.
For herbaceous and woody plants, examine what the Chicago Botanic Garden offers. They have been involved in a long running Plant Evaluation program that will blow you away. It’s a program dedicated to the scientific study of perennials, annuals, vines, shrubs, and trees. Perennials are studied for four years, shrubs and vines for six years, and trees for seven to ten years. There are over forty-four plant evaluation notes listed on the site, from achillea (yarrow) to tricyrtis (toad lily) and everything in between. One particular study that interested me was on lavender. I have been trying for years to have that genus perennialize in my garden. From the lavender study, I have learned that an English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Imperial Gem’ is a superior lavender in all respects—free-flowering, robust, and cold-hardy (the trial garden is in zone 5).
Your last source of plant trial information comes from across the pond. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) publishes results from a variety of trials on annuals, bulbs, perennials, trees, shrubs, and vegetables. Exact matches aren’t always possible given the differences in climate and growing conditions, not to mention that some plants aren’t available here in the states. However, when there is a match, a U.S. gardener can get detailed insights about specific plants. For example, I found the 2008 study of panicle hydrangeas like ‘Limelight’ to be extremely helpful as it relates to pruning practices for this shrub. It turns out that not all h. paniculatas should be pruned alike. You can prune for stem strength, flower size and a few other characteristics as the results of the RHS study revealed.
So as you assess your garden and put together your “wish list,” take advantage of all the hard work that’s been done by these horticulturists. Remember to give your plants their best start by using Coast of Maine Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost.
You’ll be setting them and yourself up for success in next year’s garden.
When making your buying decisions, keep in mind what Vita Sackville-West, English author and creator of Sissinghurst Gardens said: “The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done before.” Isn’t filling these garden gaps exactly that?
Written by Lorraine Ballato, author of Success With Hydrangeas, A Gardener’s Guide