September entered the picture quickly and amazingly is already half over! Feels like the summer just began and now we are going into the final few months of gardening. We have already had a couple of minor frosts that have nipped a few plants, but there are still many growing days ahead to enjoy. I am hopeful but always keep a wary eye on the night temperatures.
Of course, this month is not all bad. There is plenty of growing that can still be done in the garden. Many of the annuals are still in their glory with their bright flowers. Some are fading, but there are also those that are just beginning as the late season is when they begin to show their colors. Those that got nipped by the frost I cleaned up and they look good as new.
If you are lucky enough to have remembered to cut back your delphiniums and perennial salvia after they last bloomed, chances are that many of them are giving you a second flush of flowers on this very day. The asters and mums are beginning to open their blooms for a long season of continuous color. The cool weather actually allows many of these late-season bloomers to last longer as there is not nearly the heat during the day to fade their flowers.
Turtleheads are another perennial that begin to bloom in the late season. Many people are not familiar with them but for those of us who do grow them, they prove to be a winner every year with their unique and colorful blooms.
I think I originally acquired the Turtlehead because I thought the name was cute. Since snapping turtles tend to lay their eggs in my garden each and every year in the spring, what better plant to have growing than one to commemorate that event. The turtlehead is given its name as when the flowers begin to open, they resemble the head of a snapping turtle, whose "mouth" begins to open as it blooms. Very similar in form as the snapdragons except you can’t pinch their mouths open and closed with a simple squeeze of their sides.
The plant has many great characteristics also, starting with its great clump formation. Usually only growing in a clump of 2 to 3 feet in diameter, this plant reaches a height of about 30 inches. Its leaves are a deep green with a lance-like shape to them. Often the shininess of their leaves is a great accent in the garden throughout the summer before it begins to bloom. When the flower buds form, they terminate each stem and begin to elongate to about 6 inches tall above the foliage. Slowly the flower buds begin to appear along the sides of the bud stem and open from the bottom toward the top.
Depending on the variety that is selected, the blooms will be either pink, lavender, red or white. The red varieties are only hardy to zone 5, but the pink are hardy in zone 4. The white varieties have proven to be the hardiest of the selections all the way into zone 3. The most common varieties in our area are the ‘glabra', which produce white blooms, and ‘hot lips’, which produce pink flowers.
These plants enjoy full to partial shade locations with moist soils that are rich in organic matter. If planted in full shade, make sure to prune back the plants in early June to establish a shorter, more compact plant when it blooms. If left untouched, the stems can tend to get tall and weak and fall over. Many selections will grow in full sun as long as their high moisture requirements are met. In the winter season, they should have a heavy layer of leaves upon them. This is not so much for winter protection as much as it is beneficial for the plant to have leaf mold and decaying matter around its root system for nutrients.
Dividing should be done in the spring season when it is first beginning to come up. Its new red stems are quite noticeable for recognition. Spade the plant out, divide into smaller plants and replace them in the garden where desired. They will take hold quickly and bloom in the fall of the same year. Spacing of the plants should be about 3 to 4 feet apart if planting them in groups together.
Some of the best places to plant these items are in the midsection of a garden due to their size. Planting near lime- or yellow-colored foliage plants really accents them well up close or from a distance. They look good in either a mixed garden for an all-season blend or in a fall garden alongside blooming kale, asters, mums and rudbeckias to name a few.
Check out the garden centers this autumn and see if you can’t find some of these great fall plants to add to your garden this month. Not only do they look good when not blooming, but they sure make a statement during this time of year. They even make great cut flowers if you like to enjoy a little autumn arrangement in the house.
September doesn’t have to be the end to a growing season, in essence, it is just the beginning of a new season of blooms and color. Cooler weather may become more common, but frosty weather is a ways off ... so they say!