Boosting The Garden’s Second Season

In early September many people can enjoy the garden’s “second season”, with weeks or even a month or two of growing time left before bad weather sets in.  Cooler weather is conducive to plant growth and humans find it much more comfortable to do outside chores.  Whether your garden is an array of containers, a country estate, or anything in between, now is the time to boost the health and beauty of your plantings and landscape for a successful grand finale.

Replace and Rejuvenate

Those summer annuals, so vibrant and colorful through May, June and July, may be showing signs of fatigue by now, even if you have watered and fed them faithfully.  You can try rejuvenating them by cutting back by two-thirds and watering well.  Shade-loving coleus responds especially well to this treatment, but many other annuals will also produce an early fall flush of bloom.  If the plants in your beds, window boxes or containers really have given their all, pull them out and replace them with the colorful fall pansies, ornamental cabbage and mums now on display at garden centers and big box merchandisers.

With newly replanted containers, it is also wise to boost the performance of the new specimens with the addition of some fresh growing medium like Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Mix.

Renew and Refresh

It is important to keep up with weeding, even as weed growth slows down.  As fall weather sets in, summer weeds like crabgrass, will be replaced by some of the same cool weather weeds that you probably pulled out in the spring.  Preventing weeds from going to seed now will save you labor in the spring.

Drought has plagued many areas, so watering is important, but should also be done strategically.  Thirsty plants like hydrangeas, reblooming daylilies and roses should receive water more regularly than drought tolerant species like lavender and sedum.

And when you water those roses, deadhead the spent blooms to promote another round of flowers.  Skip this step if you want to encourage the formation of colorful rose hips, especially on reblooming Rosa rugosa hybrids, which brighten fall with their cherry tomato-like hips.

Veggies Galore and More

Vegetable gardeners should be relishing the harvest of end-of-summer tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplant and other goodies.  If the fall growing season is relatively long where you live, and you have the room and the inclination, you can sow seeds of lettuce, spinach and other greens that perform best under cooler temperatures.

Take Stock

Take a critical look at your landscape or container array.  Is it missing plants that would provide more autumn interest?  Garden centers and other plant retailers have stocked their pallets with seasonal perennials like asters, fall-blooming anemone, boltonia, rudbeckia and other late season stars.  You can see them in bloom and use them to plug holes in your planting scheme.  An investment now brings both immediate and longer term rewards.

The so-called “hardy” mums that appear in garden centers in the early fall, may or may not survive the winter in the garden.  Planting early in September, watering and mulching well will give them the best chance of instant beauty and long term survival.  If you are ordering fall plants online, look for “garden mums”, which have been bred to perform like other perennials.


If you have a little extra room, consider shrubs or small trees that provide fall interest, including American cranberrybush (Viburnum opulus var. americanum), beautyberry (Calycarpa) oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria), or Japanese maple.

Neat and Tidy

If you grow hydrangeas and the flowerheads have turned brown on the stems, you can snip them off to improve the appearance of the shrubs.  Be careful not to go further, as many hydrangeas have already formed the buds that will produce next year’s flowers.

Keep up with deadheading, clipping hedges and edging beds, if you have them.  Nothing improves a landscape more quickly than a little judicious tidying.

And finally, remember that the best boost you can give to your garden in the fall is to enjoy it as often as possible.  You will need that dose of inspiration to get through the foul weather months ahead.

About Elisabeth Ginsburg

Born into a gardening family, Elisabeth Ginsburg grew her first plants as a young child. Her hands-on experiences range from container gardening on a Missouri balcony to mixed borders in the New Jersey suburbs and vacation gardening in Central New York State. She has studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere and has also written about gardens, landscape history and ecology for years in traditional and online publications including The New York Times Sunday “Cuttings” column, the Times Regional Weeklies, Horticulture, Garden Design, Flower & Garden, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. Her “Gardener’s Apprentice” weekly column appears in papers belonging to the Worrall chain of suburban northern and central New Jersey weekly newspapers and online at She and her feline “garden supervisors” live in northern New Jersey.

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