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Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Marla McAfee, garden center manager at McNamara Florist, holds an aster plant.
Get digging

Perfect plants for fall gardening

Garden mums

This time of year, a gardener can get depressed. Even the most tenderly cared-for plants are going brown, giving up or otherwise fading away. But some of the excitement of spring can be recaptured by interspersing some pleasurable planting into the clean-up chores.

Late summer is ideal for many new plantings – plants get a chance to put down roots during coolish, generally damper weather instead of fighting summertime heat and drought.

And garden centers, eager to get rid of inventory before they close for the season, tend to put appropriate plants on sale.

We asked some local experts what to look for.

Perennials. Gardeners who already have perennials – hostas, coneflowers or other Rudbeckia, including black-eyed Susans – may face the task of dividing some. But new perennial plants can be established now in pesky bare spots, says Marla McAfee, garden center manager of McNamara Florist at Sand Point, 4322 DeForest Ave. just off Bluffton Road.

“I’ve got a whole nursery full of them on sale,” she says.

Chrysanthemums. These fall staples provide lush color through October, says Doug Hackbarth, owner of Broadview Florist & Greenhouses, 5409 Winchester Road. But mums come with a few caveats.

First, he says, look for a label that says “garden mums” or “hardy mums” – most for sale this time of year are, but if they’re referred to as “florist mums” or “pot mums” they won’t survive the winter. Be ready to deadhead blooms to prolong the show, and cover the plants with a sheet if a hard frost is predicted. Get them planted soon and keep them watered.

“The sooner you plant them, the better time the root system will have getting into the ground,” Hackbarth says.

Pansies and asters. Pansies in the fall? Yes, McAfee says. They like cool weather and will survive many weeks in a thick-walled pot or in the ground. Asters, like chrysanthemums, are pretty purple fall bloomers, but slightly less hardy, and you won’t be disappointed if you think of them as good for one season, she says.

“It’s a bonus if they come back.”

Trees and shrubs. “Fall is definitely a good time to plant these because we find it’s less stressful on the plant,” says Dave Geller, owner of Arbor Farms Nursery, 12515 Coldwater Road.

Shade and flowering trees and evergreens are all appropriate for fall planting, as are shrubs such as hydrangeas, lilacs, viburnum or forsythia. Keep them well watered initially, he says.

Bulbs. “Everybody wants tulips and daffodils and hyacinths in the spring, but it’s the wrong time to buy them,” Hackbarth says. Now is the right time – get them in the ground before frost, he says. But be aware – McAfee says McNamara is currently not stocking bulbs because fewer people are planting them.

“People do forget about them in the fall,” she says.