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"The Best Autumn-Blooming Perennials for Sun"

Think of fall, and autumn leaves come to mind. The arrival of autumn brings with it cooler temperatures and shorter days. The arrival of autumn does not mean the end of bloom in the garden, however. Autumn is a time when many perennial flowers come into their own. Fall-flowering perennials keep the garden in colorful bloom through frosty weather when all other flowers have gone by. These late-summer and fall-blooming perennials are otherwise inconspicuous in the garden in spring and summer, but when the end of the season nears, they come forth in a flurry of bloom that starts in September, continues through the killing frosts of October, and many persist into winter and beyond to provide winter interest. Click on a plant name below to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

There are many different types of asters that bloom in fall. New England aster 'Purple Dome' is one of the more desirable asters because of its compact plant habit, eliminating any need for pinching to keep the plants short and bushy. 'Purple Dome' is aptly named because it forms a perfect dome of purple flowers 18 inches high and wide. It doesn't begin blooming until late in the season and is a good substitute for mums.

Aster 'Wood's Pink'Aster 'Wood's Pink' is a compact aster that forms a tidy clump just 15 inches high and wide. It’s covered with small, vibrant-pink, daisy-like flowers in late summer and early autumn, making it one of the first of the fall-blooming asters to bloom.

Sedum 'Brilliant' is one of my favorite autumn-blooming perennials for sun. It's an upright-growing sedum that forms a handsome clump of foliage. Its fleshy, chartreuse leaves are the perfect backdrop for its large flat-topped clusters of flowers that stand atop its stems. The flowers are brilliant pink and bloom in late summer and continue blooming into early autumn. It grows about a foot and a half tall and as wide.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is the most common of the autumn-blooming sedums. Like 'Brilliant,' it's an upright-growing sedum that forms a wide clump of foliage. It has thick, fleshy leaves that line its stems. Flat-topped flower clusters form in early summer and begin turning shades of rose mauve in late summer. As the flowers age, their color deepens to copper bronze. It stands nearly two feet high and wide.

Dendranthema 'Sheffield' is truly a "hardy" mum. It comes back reliably year after year. It's also one of the last plants to bloom in my garden. It bears single, salmon-pink, daisy-like flowers on stems that can grow to three feet tall. The flowers begin blooming in late October and have been in bloom in my garden as late as Thanksgiving. It will be in bloom long after frost has claimed the annuals and most of the other perennials. It combines nicely with the other autumn-blooming perennials and extends the bloom season well into fall.

During spring and summer, ornamental grasses are perennials that provide a graceful, green backdrop in the garden, but in fall and winter as other plants go dormant and disappear, ornamental grasses suddenly emerge as focal points in the garden. Their fluffy seed heads appear and sway delicately in the breeze and their arching foliage turns a golden tan.

Dwarf Miscanthus 'Adagio'There are many different types of ornamental grasses. One of my favorites is miscanthus. Of the many varieties of miscanthus, one of the best is Dwarf Miscanthus 'Adagio.' It's much more compact than most miscanthus. It forms a handsome clump of slender, arching foliage about four feet high and wide. It produces an abundance of flower plumes that appear in mid August. The foliage has a thin stripe of white running down the center of each leaf. Because of its compact size, it's a good choice for a small garden.

dwarf fountain grass 'Hameln'Another nice ornamental grass for smaller gardens is dwarf fountain grass. The variety 'Hameln' forms a perfect, rounded mound of arching foliage. It grows only about two feet high and wide. Rising through the foliage are bottle-brush-shaped flower plumes. The flowers appear in late summer and remain attractive through winter.

Two fall-blooming bulbs called colchicum provide colorful flowers late in the season. They're rather rare and lesser known, but they definitely deserve a spot in any garden. The variety 'Lilac Wonder' bears huge lilac-pink, crocus-shaped flowers that burst out of the ground with no warning in autumn. Foliage appears in spring, then dies back. A mature bulb can produce 20 or more flowers.

'Waterlily' bears striking, bright lilac-pink double flowers that look just like a waterlily bloom. They also appear in autumn without foliage. The leaves grow in spring, then die back. A very choice and hard to find cultivar.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Pots of Spring Bulbs Can Be Forced into Bloom Indoors"

Q. Last winter I saw pots of spring bulbs for sale in the supermarket and I was wondering if I could do that. I have some bulbs leftover this year that I don't have room for in my garden and I'd love to be able to enjoy the flowers inside this winter. How can I make spring bulbs bloom indoors in pots? Thanks for your help.

A. It's possible to have pots of spring-blooming bulbs in full bloom in winter, months ahead of the outdoor bulbs, with a technique called "indoor forcing" and now is a good time to start the process.

Indoor forcing involves potting up bulbs and giving them a cool, dark period of twelve weeks. Twelve weeks is all that's needed to make the bulbs think they have experienced a real winter, and when they are removed from the cold treatment, they think it's spring and time to bloom.

The forcing procedure is the same for any and all of the spring-blooming bulbs.

Any container with drainage holes in the bottom can be used for potting up bulbs for forcing. Bulb pans that are made just for this purpose are shallow and wide. These special pots are half as deep as they are wide.

The potting mix to use for forcing bulbs should have excellent drainage. The potting mix I use is one I make myself. It's a soilless mix that has excellent drainage, but also retains moisture. Put the potting mix in the bulb pan up to the first rim. Many bulbs can be planted in each pot. The bulbs can even touch each other. Set the bulbs so that they are spaced equally and the pointed ends are upright and add more potting mix up to one-half inch from the top of the pot. This will partially cover larger bulbs and totally cover smaller bulbs. Give the pot a thorough watering until water comes out the drainage holes.

Place the pots in a cool location for twelve weeks. Choose a location with consistently cool temperatures - below 50 degrees, but above freezing at all times. An unheated garage, a cool basement, or an outdoor cold frame are possible forcing locations as long as the temperature range remains right. The temperature inside a refrigerator is ideal for forcing. If you have a lot of bulbs to force, use a spare, old refrigerator if you have one.

Keep the potting mix in the bulb pots moist during forcing and regularly check the pots for watering.

After the twelve week cold treatment move the potted bulbs to a partially-dark location indoors at around 60 degrees. A few days later, move the pots to a bright window in a cool room away from heaters and drafts.

The pots of bulbs will soon send out leaves and flowers. For the longest-possible bloom, keep the potted bulbs in cool temperatures around 60 degrees.

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