All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A

by Pernell Gerver

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"The Best Autumn-Blooming Perennials"

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.

Beginning to bloom in late summer and continuing right to frost, hardy begonia is a lesser-known perennial that should be grown more.

Pink hardy begonia is a bushy plant with light green foliage. The undersides of its angel-wing-shaped leaves are maroon with deep-red veins. It bears large clusters of pale-pink blooms from midsummer to frost. The flower clusters stand above the foliage and arch outward. It self sows readily, increasing the original planting. It grows 12 to 18 inches high and wide and is quite unique. It's one of the hardiest plants in my garden. It's growing in the coldest part of my garden and it comes back bigger and better every year. It grows well in shade to part sun.

White hardy begonia is even more rare than pink hardy begonia. It has the same light-green, angel-wing-shaped foliage with maroon undersides and deep-red veins. Its flowers are pure white and begin blooming in midsummer and continue to frost. Like pink hardy begonia, it self sows, increasing the original planting. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall and wide and thrives in shade to part sun.

Goldenrod 'Fireworks' is a graceful plant with long arching sprays of bright yellow flowers that appear in late summer and continue into autumn. The flower sprays really look like fireworks exploding. It grows three to four feet tall and prefers a sunny location. The long stems are good for cutting. This cultivar is a special hybrid that was bred for its unique bloom pattern. Goldenrod is blamed for allergies, but it's actually ragweed that sheds the offending pollen, not goldenrod.

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.

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.

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

"Orchid Cactus Blooms in Spring"


Q. I purchased an orchid cactus about two years ago and I have not had any flowers on it. How long does it take to flower and is there anything special I should be doing to cause that to happen? Appreciate your input if possible.

A. Orchid cactus has long, flat stems that bear striking flowers. The cup-shaped flowers range in size and can be six inches long or more with flaring petals and prominent stamens. The vibrant flowers bloom in a range of bright colors, depending on variety.

The normal blooming period for orchid cactus is spring. Flower buds form during mid to late winter and begin blooming by early spring. Each flower blooms for several days and up to a dozen flowers may be in bloom at any one time. Occasionally, orchid cactus may bloom again in autumn, but not always. Flowers are usually only borne on the upper portion of the stems.

The key to blooming for orchid cactus is cool, nighttime winter temperatures. Orchid cactus can tolerate nighttime winter temperatures as low as 40 degrees, but 50 to 55 degrees is ideal. Warm nighttime temperatures will cause stems to grow at the expense of flower buds. If possible, move it to a cooler area during winter where nighttime temperatures are in the proper range. Average-to-cool room temperature during winter is adequate. The rest of the year