We can expect afternoon rains and increased humidity through October, giving us about two full months before the first hard freeze. We have plenty of growing season left so let me share a simple way to maximize plant growth and intensify color of foliage and blossoms. It's something I've learned that can enhance our enjoyment of fall garden days. Following their exuberant growth during spring and summer, plants can look tired and pale, even though they still are growing. All I do is feed them one last time before they shut down for the winter.
I use the plant food I created specifically for our area, my "All Purpose Plant Food" 7-4-4. It is all natural and very effective. This hearty meal will brighten flower beds, force more flowers from rosebushes, keep the vegetable crop flowing, and bring out the richest blues and greens from all trees and shrubs. This feeding has an especially noticeable effect on plants that have been eaten by grasshoppers, caterpillars, aphids, and even on plants that have suffered hail damage.
Mountain grasses really are the "Show Offs" in our landscapes at this time. Now, I'm not talking about lawns. I'm referring to ornamental grasses with those majestic plumes that move freely in the wind. It's odd that garden centers carry few if any of these grasses during the rush of spring planting; however, now through fall you will find a huge selection of ornamental grasses and many will be in plume and looking their best. Without question, the best season for grasses is now through the end of fall.
Ornamental grasses are extremely hardy. Use short varieties in rock gardens and showy containers and plant some of the larger specimens right in the ground, much like a shrub or small tree. All grass varieties are watered and fed the same as other trees and shrubs. No lawn mowers here; prune them back close to the ground in late winter and watch their undulating beauty return in spring. To get the best plumes on any of these ornamental grasses it is best to give them at least five hours of sun per day during the growing season. Plants that have no plumes yet should be given a good strong dose of my all-natural plant food to encourage new growth.
Gold Bar Acanthus forms a graceful, upright clump of green leaves, each with very unusual zebra-like striped gold bars. In late fall it produces burgundy red plumes held just above the foliage. It's easier to care for than pampas grass, and remains attractive well into winter. A cousin to our native deer grass, this model is very hardy and ready for heat and sun anytime of the year. Plant it with Blue Switch Grass for a stunning show that screams, "A gardener lives here".
Evergreen Deer Grass has fluffy beige spikes arching above shimmering silver-green foliage. It grows quickly to its 3'X3' size. The foliage remains evergreen well into winter, making it an excellent candidate for mass plantings and for large containers.
Ivory Feathers Dwarf Pampas Grass is the most well known of the ornamental grasses. It grows 6-foot tall stalks of white plumes above the foliage. Once established this drought-hardy variety thrives with little water. Because of it's smaller stature it won't take over a landscape like the larger pampas version.
Japanese Silver Grass is definitely on my best grass list because of its gracefully arching top and silvery-white plumes. Each dark green blade is highlighted with a creamy white stripe that makes this a great accent plant. It works well as a backdrop to Russian sage, salvias, and other medium height shrubs.
Little Bunny Fountain Grass is the shortest of the fountain grasses, growing to about one foot high. Its graceful little fluffy, buff-colored plumes stand above the plant mass, just like taller grasses. This grass provides terrific contrast when used among shrubs, in rock gardens, or in flowering container gardens. The dark green foliage turns a golden russet in fall.
During the fall planting season I seem to live at the garden center. One of my main activities is answering gardeners' questions. So, if you have a design idea that needs fleshing out, plants that you need identified, or insects that might be bugging you in the garden please stop by the garden center. Think of my staff and me as those next-door neighbors who happen to know a lot about successful gardening in our neighborhood. I especially like helping readers of this column; I think of you as my neighbors.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.