Alas! The hot, muggy, dog days of summer are slowly coming to an end. And what better way to celebrate the end of summer than by welcoming Autumn? It’s time to rip out the old and bring in the new! Fall flower gardens are lovely, especially after the summer cleanup. Let’s begin recreating your outdoor oasis and transform it into a fabulus, fall haven.
(Some of the links within this post are affiliate links on which I receive a small compensation from the sale of certain items.)
Just a Little About the Lawn
If you have a lawn, here are just a few tips on how to prepare it for the winter.
- Rake leaves onto a tarp and then transport them to the curb or a compost bin
- Use leaves as fertilizer by running your mower over fallen leaves in order to shred them into tiny flakes. They will settle into the grass and decompose into a natural fertilizer. However, only do this at the end of the season when most of the leaves have been hauled away. Spreading too many
pieces of leaves will suffocate the grass.
- If you’re not fertilizing naturally with leaves, apply a store bought fall fertilizer and pellitized lime if needed.
- You can also aerate your lawn and add extra seed before winter sets in.
For more inclusive information, refer to This Old House, How to Prep Your Lawn For Winter.
Summer Cleanup – Late August, Early September
Before planting any fall foliage, you have to clean up the summer garden.
Update Seasonal Flowers
Now is the time to pull out straggly annuals. If they are still in bloom and look hardy, just clip back the long legged stems to freshen their appearance. You want to clip them back if they are stilll flowering in order to promote more summer flowers before the temperatures drop.
Also, if you deadhead the flowers before they turn to seed, more flowers may continue to grow and blossom.
You do not want to cut back the perennials too soon in the fall season. As with annuals, keep deadheading them before they turn to seed. Once the last flowers have bloomed you can either cut the entire plant to around 4 inches high, or let the last flowers turn to seed to feed the birds.
Remember, though, to cut the plant back once it is entirely browned out and before the first snowfall. This will allow it to sleep peacefully through the winter and encourage good growth in the spring.
Now is also a good time to divide your perennials. Refer to my post How to Grow Tarragon and scroll down to root division technique to learn more about this process.
Prune and Tidy Up
Throughout the summer, bushes, trees and plants become overgrown. Cut off all broken or diseased tree limbs and any limbs hanging too far down that are obstructing views. Make the cut either at the trunk or at a V where two limbs join. Also, cut any dead or diseased wood inside bushes. This will help with air circulation and to prevent disease, mold, and mildew from forming. It will also open up your area. You’ll feel like you just opened a window to a new expanse of scenery.
Pick up any broken branches and debris in the garden and on your lawn.
Protection for Plants
Between the middle and the end of fall, protect cold sensitive plants by adding mulch to the soil, but not too close to the trunk of a tree or bush. Also, wrap them in burlap to protect them from harsh winds and freezing temps.
I recently bought a gardenia plant and love it. I live in a 6a to 7a zone and am going to try to keep it alive this winter by covering it with burlap or a fiber blanket. Wish me luck! Here is a video on how to protect your cold sensitive plants.
Now that you have tidied up your garden, it’s time to plant some magic. Fall annuals add a variety of textures, color, and interest to a garden. Though they only live for the season, it is well worth the effort to plant these lovelies in your outdoor sanctuary.
Plant them where there are blank spaces. Before planting, check out the surrounding colors and textures of the foliage. You want to choose a color and texture that will complement the other plants. Also, consider the height of the surrounding plants. It’s best to match the height of others if the gap is next to the existing plants, or choose flowers that are shorter if the gap is in front of them. Create a tier effect so that all is seen.
Fall annuals like cooler temperatures. Begin planting them when the temperatures dip at night. This will help them look and stay fresh through the heat of the day.
Most fall annuals will continue to bloom until the first hard frost. Here are some annuals to select.
Viola – like its cousin, the pansy, viola likes cooler temps; it will flower well into the fall and mid winter; the variety ice pansies will bloom even with a dusting of snow
Ornamental Pepper – this pepper comes in a variety of fall colors; you can eat them, however, some varieties are very hot, others very bland
Ornamental Cabbage – the ornamental variety is bred for looks rather than flavor; they like full sun and come in various colors; they look best planted as a grouping; they thrive in cool weather
Celosia – spikes of feather like flowers; are drought tolerant; flower from mid-summer through mid-autumn
Cockscomb – an annual in cold climates, but a perennial in warmer climates; also known as brain flower because of its appearance; it is a different variety of the celosia; grows in a variety of colors
Marigold – grows from summer through fall; primarily orange or yellow varieties with varying sizes; good all around flower
Zinnia – blooms from summer through fall; comes in many colors and sizes; great cutting flower; good all around flower
When the temperatures drop and stay consistently cool, plant spring and summer bulbs. For more information on planting bulbs, namely tulips, check out my blog post Everything About Tulips.
There are many other perennials that bloom in the fall. Here are just a few.
Sedum – (otherwise known as Autumn Joy) interesting flower that changes from a pale green to a crimson red; use as cutting flowers; attracts bees and butterflies
Rudbeckia – one common rudbeckia is black-eyed-Susan; it is a very hardy plant and grows naturally in the mid-western sections of the US; they are commonly seen in fields; extremely easy to grow and maintenance free except for deadheading
Perennial Sunflower – the Maximillian Perennial Sunflower will bloom from mid summer through fall; can grow up to 7 feet high; good for the back of your garden; attracts pollinators
Salvia – plant in full sun; loves the heat; butterfly magnets; blooms summer through fall
Coreopsis – blooms summer through fall; perennial variety will bloom second year after planting; likes full sun
Chrysanthemums – these flowers are either annuals or perennials. If you are buying mums with the intention of planting them in the ground, buy them from a nursery. The supermarket brands are not meant to be perennials. After they have bloomed, plant them in the ground and cut back the stems. Once they start to pop up in the spring and summer, trim the height of the stems to 8 inches until July 15 to guarantee flowers in the fall.
A Little About Bushes
Planting bushes is another way to bring vibrant fall color to your garden. There are many from which to choose.
I suggest you plant fall flowering bushes in the mid fall. Give them a good watering when planted, then water 1 time per week until the temperature is consistently cool in late fall unless there is a heatwave. If a heatwave arrives, water the plant every 2 to 3 days.
Also, by planting them in the fall, the roots will take hold while the ground is still warm and moist. They will settle in before the cold temperatures arrive.
When the spring rolls around, the roots will have been established. You must still water the bush every week during the first season. After that, it’s on its own!
Here are some suggestions for flowering and/or interesting folliage bushes.
- English Holly (Common Holly/Christmas Holly/evergreen)
- Burning Bush – Euonymus Alatus Compactus
- Nandina Bush (Heavenly Bamboo)
- Buxus Globes (English Boxwood/evergreen)
- Pyracantha (Firethorn)
An Easy Guide
Follow the guide below to almost guarantee a beautiful fall garden.
Early to Mid-Spring Divide perennials and complete plant divisions
Summer Plant heat tolerant and perennial flowers on or before last frost date
Early Fall Plant cold tolerant annuals and perennial flowers
Mid-Fall Plant bulbs
During the hot season, be sure the roots are covered with 2 to 3 inches of natural mulch (not black) to keep the roots moist. Water 2 to 3 times per week.
After the summer’s heat and the plants are not producing any more flowers, water the plants once per week.
The Beauty of Fall
Autumn is probably my favorite time of year. It welcomes shorter days, cozier nights, the wafting aroma of a wood burning fire, and brilliant crimson gardens. I hope after reading this post you’ll decide to spruce up your garden and create a beautiful fall oasis.
Please leave a comment below. I love seeing images of gardens. If you’d like, leave a picture of your before and after garden, or just an after shot!
10 thoughts on “Fall Flower Gardens – After the Summer Cleanup”
Thank you so much for this highly informative article, Nina! As someone who is currently sweltering in the 95 degree Chicago heat (so much for the “Windy City” right now. Haha) and who is just now getting into gardening (I definitely want to grow my own flowers/plants and food for health/safety, nature and beauty related reasons), this is a fantastic article about how to plant a colorful, healthy, and enriching fall garden! I absolutely love the picture of the marigolds-their “fuzzy” texture and bright orange/yellow color contrast (such bold colors) definitely stand out, scream pumpkin pie and falling leaves, and all around bring a big smile to my face. Haha. You have explained the planting/cultivating process beautifully-it’s not as hard and complex as some people make it out to be. I have saved your website and will definitely be back! Great read! Yah (God) bless you!
I’m so glad you liked my article. I really enjoy the fall. You must get some nice cool temps in the fall what with living in Chicago! I hope the 95 degree heat subsides soon for you! I’m sick of it where I live; I can’t wait for fall weather.
Thanks so much for the comment! Good luck with your garden!
As I read your article I feel like I am in a flower garden. And you line it up in a very interesting way. Utilizing things like waste leaves in a garden is very valuable in keeping the garden clean. What do you think of the flowers that are suitable for the time of year? For someone like me who has a small flower garden and a large flower garden, the knowledge you can get from your article is invaluable. Thank you for posting this article.
Thanks for the comment Saminda. As I was researching an answer to your question, I found that not many varieties of the fall flowers listed in my article grow in Sri Lanka. However, I found a wonderful website that highlights flowers in your area. Some resemble chrysanthemums. The website is called Native Flower of Sri Lanka, Kapruka.com. I’m sorry I can’t seem to link the address to Kapruka.com.
Check it out when you get a chance.
I hope this answers your question.
Thanks again for the comment and I’m glad you liked it!
Hey Nina, amazing article about gardening seasonal gardening! It is obvious that you have a lot of knowledge and experience. You probably can help me with my plant.
In fact, I have a garden lily that is planted in a pot because I live in an apartment and I don’t have a yard. It bloomed a month ago and I enjoyed it in three beautiful flowers but very short. After only few days, they began to dry until they fell off. Now I don’t know how to deal with a lily as autumn and winter come. There is only a fairly dry stem without flowers. How do I nurture it over the winter to give it such beautiful flowers again? Thanks for the reply and continue your wonderful work!
All the best,
Hi Danijela. Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you liked my post. Lilies grow from bulbs and since you cannot transplant it outside, you’re going to try and simulate a winter sleep for the plant. Since the blooms on your plant have already died, cut the stem of the flower back to it’s leaf. Keep the leaves intact because the nutrients from the leaves will help nourish the bulb for blooming next year.
Once the leaves are brown, then cut the leaves leaving about one inch of them above the soil. Only slightly water it so the bulbs do not rot out.
Now you can try placing them in a dark dry location while in the soil or gently dig out the bulbs and place them in a little peat moss. Water slightly then also place them in a cool dry place to simulate winter.
Hopefully the leaves will pop through in the spring and it will begin to grow. At that time plant it in a container and bring it into warmer temperatures. If the bulb was supplied with enough nutrients from the leaves, the lily may bloom again.
Good luck. I’ve never done this before. I just planted them in the ground.
Let me know how you make out!
Thanks for the good advice about fall gardens. I find the Ornamental Pepper might suit our garden very well, not to mention we could use them for the cuisine too. What a brilliant idea! This is also my first time to read something about Cockscomb. Although they look a bit weird, I am still willing to have them in our gardens. Do you know what colors of Cockscomb could be?
Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed my article. Cockscomb come in a variety of colors. It includes, yellow, orange, red, purple and white. They are really pretty and quite unusual. Please share some photos with me if you decide to plant some!
You have a lot of knowledge about plants and taking care of them which is reflecting in your article! I love maintaining flowers and for me they are like my babies and all this information about each type of plants you gave in this article is just commendable. All the information is so straightforward and on point!
Taking care of plants in freezing weather is definitely a big task but with the help of that video I am sure I will be able to take care of them in much better way! An easy guide table in your article is really informative! This article is worth sharing!
Thanks so much for the comment. Plants are my babies too and I love taking care of them. I’m glad you were able to take away some extra knowledge and thanks so much for sharing!