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September 17, 2011

Make fall gardening easy with fool-proof perennials

GROVE CITY — If you could name your top five or 10 fall blooming perennials, would that list include sedum, turtlehead, asters, goldenrod, or maybe even hosta? If they're not on your list, maybe you should consider adding them.

There are about 400 different species of sedum (Stonecrop). The most popular varieties are succulent perennials; of these, 'Autumn Joy' can be seen blooming in many gardens now. This clump-forming favorite starts out deep pink at first, then turns pinkish bronze to eventually copper-red. It grows to 24 inches tall and often just as wide. Once established in well-drained soil and in a sunny location, sedums are mostly maintenance-free, easy-to-grow perennials.

Turtlehead (Chelone) has only six species, according to the 2004 edition of the "American Horticultural Society A-Z Encylopedia of Garden Plants." That number is minute in comparison with many of the other plants listed. Flowers come in white, pink, and purple, although it can be tricky distinguishing between the purple and pink variety. I have what appears to be a light purple (or is it pink?) clump that is one of the easiest plants I've ever grown. And that's one of the main benefits of growing this native perennial.

Asters (Asteraceae), or as Mother calls them, "summer farewells," have daisy-like flowers and grow best in part to full sun and in moderately fertile soil. Flowers have yellow centers with colors in varying shades of blue, pink, and purple. You can expect to have blooms well into November if protected from frost. Good garden cultivars include 'Purple Dome' and 'Wood's Pink.'

Goldenrod (Solidago) is everywhere at this time of year! But as a native perennial wildflower, it's one of the most hardy and tough-as-nails plants you can have in the garden. And there are varieties that don't become quite as in-your-face as what's growing rampant around here. Garden cultivars such as 'Golden Fleece,' 'Golden Baby,' and 'Baby Star' are more tame and just as easy to grow. Goldenrod does well in average soil and likes full sun to part shade.

If your hosta is in bloom now and has fragrant flowers, you might have a variety known as August lily (Hosta plantaginea). Named varieties to consider for the late summer garden include 'Aphrodite,' 'Sum and Substance' (allow room for its 6-foot expansion in width), and 'So Sweet.' Hostas do best in part sun to shade and like moist but well drained soil. If you're growing your hostas in full sun they probably end up looking brown and wilted after several weeks of hot and dry weather. Trimming them back to the ground will often bring new growth that might last till the end of summer.

If you're not growing any of the fall perennials I just talked about, choose one or two and just do it, please!

T.C. Conner is a Master Gardener and columnist for Allied News. He can be reached at tc@thewritegardener.com. Check out his blog at www.the writegardener.wordpress.com. His new book, "Through the Seasons with The Write Gardener," is available for sale at Allied News.

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