Stretching Summer Color into Fall

Shirley Lindsey
Adams County Master Gardener

The trial garden at the Ag Services Center looks a bit different this year. We have 12 raised beds making it easier to tend our plants. All our raised beds are planted with perennials, so we will be evaluating them from year to year. Also, since Penn State did not provide plants for us this year, we have a wider variety to grow and evaluate.

Martie Young and I are responsible for the plants in the bed I will describe. There are one chrysanthemum and three asters. We planted 3 of each variety so we can observe and evaluate their progress every other week throughout the summer.

The plants for our plot were generously donated by Alloway Gardens & Herb Farm. They are located on Mud College Road, off Route 97 near Littlestown. We chose plants that would bloom later and extend our summer color. No pruning or pinching back has been done on any plant in this bed. Since they are first year perennials, we are just letting them grow.

Our mum is chrysanthemum koreana ‘Sheffield Pink.’ We do not have blossoms yet, but the foliage has been absolutely perfect all summer. There is no evidence of insect damage or disease, and with minimal watering, it looks to be in perfect health. This is truly amazing given our dry weather this growing season. We are excitedly awaiting the salmon pink flowers.

One of the asters we are growing is Stokesia laevis or Stokes aster. This has not grown much. In fact one plant has almost shrunk to nothing. They don’t get tall like some asters anyway. The average height is 12 to 24 inches with a spread of about 18 inches. This aster flowers into October with lovely feathery lavender blue blossoms up to 4 inches in diameter. For our stokesia, we may not see a spectacular performance this year but look forward to the 2008 season.

We often think of the perennial asters as tall and rather untidy, sometimes needing to be staked. We have one such aster and have corralled it in tomato cages. This is aster novae-angliae ‘Hella lacey.’ This wonderful plant is native to the mid-Atlantic area. At up to 40 inches tall it is a large plant, so keep in mind that it needs room to grow. It can reach a width of 4 feet. This aster is often called ‘Michaelmas Daisy.’ Michaelmas is a Christian festival celebrated on September 29, at harvest time and the end of the growing season. It is marked with feasting and at one time in Europe, it was the time to make quarterly payments to landlords. The royal purple flowers of Hella lacey have yellow-orange centers and will keep blooming until hard frost. This plant is also mildew resistant.

Finally we are growing aster ‘Purple dome.’ This is a very tidy plant, forming a lovely mound about 18 inches high and about 18 to 24 inches wide. Its healthy green leaves are attractive in the garden even before it begins its colorful show in the fall. I have one of these in my garden, and it ranks high among my favorite plants. The flowers are 1 to 2 inches in diameter and an absolutely glorious purple. They attract butterflies and other insects. This aster can take some afternoon shade although most asters prefer full sun or 6 hours sun minimum.

If you want to enjoy your garden to the very last, try planting some flowers and shrubs with outstanding fall interest. There are many to choose from. For example, bulbs are not limited to spring. You can find many that don’t bloom until late summer or early fall. If you have space, you can start with the background. Oak leaf hydrangeas make a beautiful display in fall when their leaves turn a dark burnished red.

Itea or Virginia sweetspire would be another good choice with its rich fall colors. Don’t forget the ornamental grasses. Many show off reds, golds and yellows when fall arrives. One of my favorites is northern oat grass. The seed heads hang down and become a burnished bronze color.

If you have plenty of room, you will enjoy joe-pye-weed or eupatorium. Mine grows against the side of the deck and is about 10 feet tall. The purplish blue flowers are irresistible to butterflies. Other varieties do not get as tall. Eupatorium rugosum, Chocolate joe-pye-weed, is about 2 ˝ feet tall and has purplish green leaves.

Another tall one is culvers root. It grows 5 to 6 feet tall and sends out long graceful spikes of bloom. The leaves are pretty, too, forming whorls of 5 toothed leaves around the stem. They bloom well into September.

Don’t forget the old faithful rudbeckias, toad lilies, sedums, kalimeris--these will keep going until serious frost comes along. Also many favorite annuals will keep going well into September and even October in our Adams County climate.

I have extra joe-pye-weed and also northern oat grass. If anyone would like some later in the fall or next spring, please e-mail me at

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Read other articles by Shirley Lindsey