Lush, low-water-use landscape
Photo by Karen Bussolini
Most gardens have plenty of sprinters—plants that show up early in the season, flower quickly, and disappear. September, however, is the time look for the garden marathoners. What we see now are the plants that have been hiding, in beds or among the weeds, growing slowly, holding back their blooms until autumn, when they show off their longevity by giving us a tremendous fall show.

This is a great time of year to take garden tours and visit those botanical gardens that are so overcrowded in spring. These gardens were beautiful early in the year, of course, but you'll find that they'll still have plenty of flowers and color now. That's because they're tended by gardeners who understand sequence. That's one of the secrets of a good garden—it has something to show off in every season.

Here is a quick list of plants I consider all-star marathoners:

Miscanthus is an ornamental grass whose seed heads are gorgeous this time of year.

Crippsi Cypress is a golden conifer with beautiful yellow foliage.

Sedum (both 'Autumn Joy' and 'Matrona') has flower heads that turn from green to red and continue to bloom all fall.

Joe Pye Weed is a plant that grows to six feet tall and produces huge wine-red flowers in late summer and early fall.

Oxydendron, mimosa, and franklinia are all late-flowering trees. Hoopsi blue spruce is like a miniature Christmas tree, with blue color that lights up the garden.

Hibiscus is a beautiful tropical bloomer, with huge flowers up to 12 inches wide through September. One hibiscus, the Rose of Sharon, is covered with flowers well into fall. Look for whites and blues.

As you're admiring your fall-blooming plants this month, remember to keep an eye out for areas to plant bulbs. We'll talk more about that next month.

May 2007 Update: Some of these plants may be considered invasive in certain areas of the country; to find out if a particular species should not be planted in your area, consult your local cooperative extension office, and read more on invasive plants on our website.
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