October Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Mistflower

I love Eupatorium coelestinum for its showy bloom clusters in early fall. This plant is usually referred to by one of its common names which include Hardy or Perennial Ageratum and Mistflower. 

Eupatorium is a deciduous perennial native American plant in the same family as Joe Pye Weed. The bright periwinkle blue blooms of Eupatorium coelestinum attract a lot of attention in September and October, when most flowers have stopped blooming. Mistflower contrasts nicely with fall-blooming asters and the common fall mums.

The plentiful 4-inch flower clusters atop tall stems resemble the shorter annual ageratum, but Hardy Ageratum comes back bigger and better every single year.

With large clumps of bright blooms visible from a distance, Mistflower is a good candidate for a roadside garden.

Hardy Perennial Ageratum prefers full sun, fertile soil, and regular water, but this hardy variety can tolerate periods of drought. Like other varieties of Eupatorium, this one can grow in wet soil too.  We have a patch behind the greenhouse that has taken over a shady spot where the sprinkler keeps the soil evenly moist to wet.

This very showy and assertive perennial will reach heights of up to 4 feet tall, but it can be kept mowed to only a few inches. Just to give you a hint of its vigor, Mistflower is in the mint family.

This is a perennial plant that looks best in naturalistic informal gardens. It grows very well in my shade garden, where its blooms seem electrified in September.

Perennial Ageratum emerges late in spring, so be careful not to uproot it when doing your spring weeding. 

Cut back once or twice in summer to promote bushiness and more blooms, and to keep it from coming into full bloom too early.  I always want mine to wait and bloom in October.

September Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Jerusalem Artichoke

The tallest perennial in our garden is the Jerusalem Artichoke. Helianthus tuberosus is a perennial sunflower native to the Eastern United States. This is a great plant for the Fall garden at the back of the border.

Also known as Sunchokes, the Jerusalem Artichoke is a perennial plant that grows from a tuber. The tuber is edible and can be used like a water chestnut in salads or stirfry.

The flower is a lovely sunflower type bloom. The golden yellow blooms attract all kinds of pollinators. The blooms are fragrant and smell like chocolate!

Our patch of Sunchokes is over 10 feet tall this year, thanks to all the rain we received early in the Summer.

Native Americans ate the tubers and traded them to other tribes. Once European settlers moved in an found out about this native tuber that could be used like a root vegetable, they began shipping the tubers back home to Europe. The tubers were truly appreciated by the French who like adding it to soups.

Contrary to what you might think, Jerusalem Artichokes have nothing to do with Jerusalem and they are not artichokes. The tubers might taste something like an artichoke. These tubers became so popular in the early 1600's that they were cultivated as a crop and shipped to other areas. They have sense naturalized and it is now impossible to know the original native range. They can be found growing from Canada and the state of Maine, as far West as North Dakota and Texas and down South into Flo

If you'd like to have a patch of Sunchokes, keep in mind that they multiply more than rabbits! Each little piece of tuber will make another plant. So once you have Sunchokes, you'll always have them. This is truly a perennial you can plant and forget.

Jerusalem Artichoke tubers are best dug in Fall or Winter, depending on your climate. Clean dry tubers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. They are good eaten raw in salads or sliced into stirfries or steamed and eaten like a potato. Sunchokes are a nutritious tuber high in protein and iron and surprisingly low in starch. Unfortunately, the tubers cause severe flatulence in some people, so you might not want to eat them before going out.

And of course, leave it to the Germans to figure out a way to make a liquor out of Jerusalem Artichokes! In Germany, the tubers are made into a type of Brandy and other types of alcoholic beverages.

Due to its wide growing range, Jerusalem Artichokes can obviously be grown all over the United States. Plant them in full sun in soil well amended with compost. Once the plants emerge, mulch them well to retain moisture and keep down weeds. Water well during periods of drought to encourage larger tubers for eating.

September Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Hibiscus mutabilis, Confederate Rose

One of the most requested plants in our garden is the Confederate Rose. You will probably never find this plant in a big box store, and it's hard to find it in any nursery. Yet, this elusive old Southern plant is a favorite of many gardeners.

Confederate Rose is not really a rose, but a Hibiscus, Hibiscus mutabilis, to be exact. 

The blooms of the Confederate Rose are voluptuous, like one might expect from a flower in the South. Although single flowers are out there, I have seen only the many-petaled, double blooming variety that opens light pink and gradually changes to a deep rose-pink on the third day after opening. It is the changing of the bloom color that gives the plant its botanical name, Hibiscus mutabilis. Blooms can be up to 6 inches across. All those petals remind me of the many fluffy layers of the petticoats worn by Southern belles of antebellum times here in the Southeastern United States.

Despite their popularity and ability to thrive in the Southeastern US, Confederate Rose is not native to the South but comes from China. They thrive in the South anywhere that they have time to open their very late flowers before fall frost. This species is a popular passalong plant. 

Height varies from about 8 to 15 feet and the plant grows wider every year (kind of like me, apparently.)

Confederate Rose is an eye-catching foliage plant even before bloom, with large, soft, gray-green maple shaped leaves. 

Like all plants in the Hibiscus family, Confederate Rose grows best in full sun with regular water, but it will bloom quite happily in part shade. This is true especially in areas with very hot temperatures lingering into its bloom time of late summer and early fall. Although this Hibiscus does love water, it can withstand periods of drought that is common in the Southeast.

Confederate Rose will grow in regular garden soil, but it will grow larger and develop more blooms in good fertile soil. 

Once winter frosts burn back the foliage, the entire plant can be cut back to make the garden more tidy. This can be done any time during the winter or early spring. Near the coast, you can let the stems stay if you don’t mind the plant becoming very large. Confederate Rose will resprout from current branches where winters are mild. However, the plant will become 10 feet tall by summer’s end, even when cut back the previous season.  Make sure to plant it where it has plenty of room to spread out.

Late Summer Blooms for the Georgia Garden

By the end of summer, many plants have grown tired of providing blooms for our garden. Sometimes it can be a challenge to find plants that will fill in this difficult time with flowers. A diligent gardener can find quite a few plants that bloom in late summer. 

You’re probably familiar with Black-eyed Susan and Butterfly Bushes, providing the garden with blossoms this time of year no matter how hot it gets, attracting butterflies by the hundreds. You’ve seen Japanese Honeysuckle on the side of the road, or perhaps you’re even plagued with its invasive qualities in your own garden. 

But have you seen our native Red Trumpet Honeysuckle? Lonicera sempervirens is a non-invasive evergreen vine that blooms almost year round, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, and many other beneficial insects. Grow it as a groundcover, let it climb an arbor or trellis, or train it to cover a fence. You’ll be rewarded with blooms from spring to fall, and I’ve even seen blooms on mine in December! It will grow in sun or shade, but flowers more profusely in full sun. 

For the shade, try Lobelia cardinalis, our native red Cardinal Flower, loved by hummingbirds. This perennial prefers moist soil, but can be grown in regular garden soil with supplemental water. 

If you have a woodland garden, try the beautiful Plumleaf Azalea, an American native azalea made famous by Callaway Gardens. Rhododendron prunifolium is a rare deciduous azalea with bright red blooms in late July and August. Plumleaf Azalea prefers a cool shady spot with regular water. 

Perennial hibiscus continues to offer up showy blooms in several colors right up until the onset of cold weather. 

And for a little later on in the season, consider adding Swamp Sunflower, a good companion for perennial hibiscus, since they both share a love for sun and water. Helianthus blooms in September with large, bright yellow flowers on tall stems up to 10 feet tall! 

I hope you’ll try some of my suggestions in your late summer garden as you strive to make your garden more beautiful year round.

August & September Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Lycoris

A late-blooming flower you'll probably see only in the South is the old-fashioned favorite, Lycoris.

Lycoris squamigera in August
Lycoris squamigera, is usually referred to as Surprise Lily, but a funny common name for this plant is Naked Ladies. Surprise Lilies blossom in the middle of summer, usually after the 4th of July. The bulb lies dormant a good portion of the year, and then suddenly surprises us by sending up a naked flower stalk up to 2 feet tall, topped with very fragrant pink trumpet-like flowers that look somewhat like a cluster of amaryllis. It is in the amaryllis family. Leaves do not emerge until the flower stalk has faded. The trait of having a flower stalk with no foliage at the bottom is the reason for the amusing common name "Naked Ladies." Leaves are strappy medium green leaves like you'd expect from a lily, but by early Fall they turn yellow and disappear again.

Probably because it grows from a bulb, Lycoris squamigera is very easy to grow. Growing equally well in sun or shade, Lycoris is very versatile and is at home in any southern garden. However, you can grow this one even if you live in a colder climate, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. Squamigera is the most cold hardy of all Lycoris.

Surprise Lily is not picky about soil. Whether you have clay or sand or even the very rare "good soil," Lyoris squamigera will thrive and multiply. It doesn't even matter if your soil is acid or alkaline.

Lycoris squamigera will appreciate regular water during the growing season, but it's just not necessary. And once it goes dormant and the foliage has disappeared, it needs no water at all.

Lycoris radiata in September
Another Lycoris most often referred to by its common name is Lycoris radiata. We always called them Spider Lilies, but in other parts of the South, it is known as Hurricane Lily, since it blooms at the height of Hurricane Season. Each summer we are plagued here in Georgia with a drought that goes on for weeks (if not months), and in September we'll finally get a drenching rain. It is after that good soaking rain that Spider Lilies pop up in old gardens of the South. 

Lycoris radiata blooms have extremely long anthers that give them a "spider-like" appearance, hence the common name Spider Lily. Once the flowers fade, dark green basal leaves appear that look much like liriope (or "monkey grass", as it usually called around here.) Its leaves will stay green all winter here, absorbing nutrients from the sun to convert into energy for the next summer's blooms.

Lycoris radiata is hardy only in the Deep South, in USDA Zones 7-10, but it is still easy to grow. Like other members of the Lycoris family, it tolerates any soil in either sun or shade and needs no supplemental water to thrive. 

I have only the red blooming Spider Lily, but it also can be found in white. 

All species of Lycoris should be divided or transplanted only when dormant, so as not to interrupt its bloom and growth. Early summer is the optimum time for this task. Once the foliage has withered, it is safe to dig the bulbs.

Lycoris does extremely well beneath large established trees.

The flowers make excellent cut flowers and hold up well in a vase, lasting for several days in an arrangement.