Magazine article Sunset

Refresher Course: Don't Retire the Shovel Just Yet: Fall Is Prime Time to Give Your Garden a Makeover. Here's How

Magazine article Sunset

Refresher Course: Don't Retire the Shovel Just Yet: Fall Is Prime Time to Give Your Garden a Makeover. Here's How

Article excerpt

By late summer, flower beds and borders often look worn out. But though it may feel counterintuitive, early fall is actually the best season for planting. Nurseries are well stocked with hardy, late-blooming perennials to refresh your bed (we prefer perennials because they will last for years and often need very little irrigation). The best part: Plants put into the ground now will have the ideal conditions to grow strong roots over winter, so they'll be ready to sprint into bloom again next spring.

Sunset's Test Garden makeover

BEFORE A soft edging of lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) and a row of gray-green Westringia fraticosa gave this water-wise border in our garden its good bones. But by late summer, we could see only what wasn't working: It had bare spots, spent annuals that needed to be pulled out, and orange-yellow flowers that just didn't fit it.

AFTER A quick trip to the nursery turned up fillers to freshen the border, including rusty-hued Sedum 'Autumn Fire'; pink and cream coneflowers (Ecbinacea); pale yellow yarrow (Achillea), which echoes the lemongrass in back; and hot pink Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'. Most will bloom through October or longer.




Head to the nursery now, while inventory is high and perennials are in bloom.

Bring a photo of your existing garden to help you choose colors and textures that blend well with your current plants.

Before you buy, stage a vignette on your nursery cart to see how your selections will work together and make substitutions as needed.



Back home, set your purchases, still in their containers, where you think they'll work best in your garden. Cluster together at least three plants of a single type to avoid a spotty look. Also give them enough room to reach their full size without crowding others. Give yourself a Few days to make adjustments, keeping plants well watered in their containers.



Dig compost into the soil (we use a combination of store-bought and homemade compost from garden trimmings). Then plant on a cool, overcast day or in the evening, as harsh sun can stress new plants. Water them right after they go in the ground, then regularly as they settle in (as much as daily for the next few weeks).


Used in our Test Garden border, these perennials are all-stars: They need little water once established and attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. …

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