Landscapes are looking very “late summer” right now – parched, actually.
Our summer-dry climate is known as “Mediterranean”, for the lack of rain (more or less) June – September.* For this reason, after the spring flush of bloom, it may be hard to keep the garden looking interesting. Native plants are programmed to take advantage of early moisture and set fruit early, so they can endure the dry season. Therefore, we often turn to non-natives to keep things interesting, and fortunately there are lots to choose from.
A few ideas are listed in this article by Valerie Easton. They include the arresting Oxydendron arboreum:
a nice little shrub with blue flowers. Another tall perennial my friend pointed out to me recently is Salvia ‘black and blue’, attractive to hummingbirds and humans alike. See one now on the walkway at the west entrance to the Woodland Pk Zoo, also on NE 65th Street in a planter near 24th NE.
Ornamental grasses and sedges are good for three to four seasons of interest. Even when dormant, many grasses have flower heads that hold up well into late winter. There are some fantastic ones listed on the Great Plant Picks website.
You can see many nice late summer plants at the Center for Urban Horticulture right now.
Although dry ground does not invite thoughts of planting at the moment, fall planting time will be here soon. Now is the time to take stock of the late summer garden and decide on additions to spruce it up for next year. With a few exceptions, planting most perennials, shrubs, and trees as the rains arrive gives them the opportunity to establish strong root systems in still-warm soil. Plants need to put on a lot of below-ground root growth prior to the spring flush of leaves that demands so much energy. Do your plants a favor by letting them get this head start and you’ll be rewarded with drought-tolerant, stronger plants that hold up well to the stress of summer heat and dry soil.
So buck the spring-planting trend and plant this fall! If you are trying perennials from seed, put them in pots and set outside – the rain will keep them moist while they are exposed to winter cold – often necessary to break seed dormancy.
Where do you find plants in September?
- The WA Native Plant Society is having a Fall Planting Celebration on Sept 22. There will be free garden tours and roving experts to assist buyers to locate plants and seeds appropriate to your site. I will be giving some presentations on plant propagation and roving expertly between talks.
- The NW Hort Society fall sale is September 14 and 15 at North Seattle Community College. Find rare and unusual ornamentals for your cutting-edge garden.
- Shop locally: don’t forget your Wallingford neighbor, David Hutchinson of Flora and Fauna/Discovery Gardens He has lots of interesting plants, and he has just about given up on getting people to plant in the fall – surprise him by calling to arrange a visit!
*If you’d like to take a detour through the last 65 million years or so of earth’s climate history, here is a fascinating perspective on how our local climate and vegetation got where it is today. I find it calming and refreshing to take in the long view occasionally. This content is from Western Oregon University.