Every year by the end of August our temperatures start the turn back to cooler. Even the angle of the sun tells us that fall is just about here.

Another sure sign is the condition of the flowers in the garden. The sun and heat loving perennials like the daisies and black eyed Susan’s are just about spent. This year we have the added effect of the pronounced drought of the past 2 months.

This morning we assessed a garden for a customer. The main planting was creeping phlox but the blooms had long since gone and what foliage that was left was beginning to turn brown. The round garden measures about 8 feet in diameter and was situated directly beneath and around a medium small 10 inch maple tree.

The first thought that came to mind was the tree should not have mulch piled so far up on the trunk. I will never understand why people insist on building a pile of mulch against the parts of a tree which are supposed to be exposed to the air. This practice can invite disease in the bark, not to mention it makes a hiding and breeding place for destructive insect. In fact it was a near by nursery who had constructed the garden in the first place. A nursery man should know better!

But that thought aside, I came to look at the plants and recommend a plan for the fall. The phlox covered 75 percent of the area with intermittent bare spots showing weather red mulch and a bit of black landscape fabric showing through.

My first recommendation was to start watering the phlox. The garden was very dry owing to our local drought and a spotty watering regime. A garden that is sheltered under a tree, as this one was, will not get much rain when we have light showers and its deprived any dew that might form at night as well. A week or 2 of regular watering will bring the phlox back and help prepare it for the cold dry winter ahead.

My next suggestion was to use the bare spots for seasonal planting. For example since we are heading into fall and much cooler weather the homeowners could plant some mums right in 1 gallon pots. As log as they are watered they will do fine in the pots. When winter inevitably comes the mums can be bunkered with a bit more mulch and left in the ground. Then in the spring the mums can be taken up, clipped back and held over for next fall. If for texture and variety some kale can be added as well.

Other cool weather plants such as marigolds, violas and pansy’s can also be planted in the fall. These flowers are often thought of as spring planting but they are really just cool weather plants. As a matter of fact we had violas growing in December last year, and this is zone 4.

After the mums are taken up in the spring the holes can be planted with marigolds, violas, or pansy’s for the spring. The phlox will be blooming very early and should hold the color until at least June after which time warm weather plants like geraniums and portulaca can be added to the mix.

By changing the plantings for the season they can cultivate their green thumbs and enjoy a wider variety of flowers.

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