An annual rite of spring has reached DFW again
Who would have expected that you’d be planting anything in this, the hottest month of the year, but indeed that’s the case. Here are plants to buy and plant in the next several weeks.
Marigolds, zinnias and celosias
Buy these from 4-inch potted transplants. Their flowers will be more brilliantly colored in fall’s cooler weather. The plants will be less troubled by insects and diseases than their spring counterparts. There’s just everything to like about these plants in fall. The only problem you’ll have will be in finding them in local nurseries. Ideally you’ll buy plants in bud but not yet in full bloom. Those establish and flower better than plants that are already in flower. Use them in beds or pot them up for pockets of color. You’ll love the results.
You don’t see this little annual used much in North Texas landscapes and that’s a real shame. There are several types, most with variegated leaves that turn all shades of red, orange, yellow and green when the weather turns cooler from late September and on. They’re spreading plants that grow to 15 or 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide. One more upright type has maroon foliage and there’s a yellow and green spreading type, too. These are great as bordering color, but they also look wonderful in large patio pots.
Cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and collards)
We grow these in the spring, and at least cabbage and broccoli do quite well in most of our gardens. But fall is really made for them, especially the much slower Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Plant all of these in mid-August from small potted transplants. Protect them against cabbage loopers by dusting with B.t.
These are Lycoris radiata to botanists. If you grew up in Texas, you already know these beauties. They look like exploding starbursts of cherry red. (Other colors are sold once in a while, but resist the temptation. “Red” is the best.) These are bulbs that need to be planted where they can grow undisturbed almost forever. Their leaves emerge later and persist all fall. Better nurseries sell these, and they’re readily available at bulb suppliers online.
Surprise lilies, also called magic lilies
These don’t resemble spider lilies in the least, but they’re actually sister plants. They’re Lycoris squamigera. Texas gardeners more commonly refer to them as “naked lady lilies” because they produce their bold leaves in the spring, then, after the foliage has turned yellow and gone away entirely, beautiful flowers emerge in the fall. The bulbs are expensive, but they’re well worth planting now if you want them. Some nurseries carry them, but you may have to buy them online.
Oxblood lilies, also known as schoolhouse lilies
This is a glorious little bulbous plant. Its flowers pop up almost overnight sometime in early fall. The actual date will vary from one year to the next, but they’re dependable about blooming so just wait. They’re about a foot tall when they bloom, and it’s not uncommon for them to rebloom one or two times in rapid succession. The plants’ leaves persist all fall until early spring and you must leave them in place. Buy high-quality bulbs, preferably from local nurseries or recognized national mail order sources.
Fall crocus, also called lily-of-the-fields
To be clear, these are botanically Sternbergia lutea, and they’re some of the prettiest little bulbs we have here in Texas. They grow to 5 or 6 inches tall and they sprinkle the ground with blooms of bright, clear yellow. Grow them where you can let them establish and fill in.
Our grandmas grew this wonderful flower. It bloomed and drew butterflies and bees to our gardens each fall and it added a lovely shade of lavender-blue to contrast against the reds, oranges and yellows of fall. But until fairly recently the only way you could get it was to beg a division from a friend or relative who already had it. Now, though, you’ll find it in nurseries. Watch for it and grab it when you see it. It will die to the ground with the first freeze, then regrow for another round of blooms next year and for years to come thereafter. Shear it by half in mid-May to keep it compact.
Mexican bush sage
With its purple spikes and gray-green leaves, this is a beautiful fall bloomer. It grows to 24 to 30 inches tall. Pinch it in early summer to keep it compact. Watch how the migrating Monarchs and other butterflies and bees flock to it.
Lettuce, spinach and other leafy vegetables
These are planted from seed late in the month. Many are actually quite pretty, so consider planting them as filler in pots or the flowerbed border. They do best in loose, highly organic soil, and the cool, moist conditions of fall are to their liking.
This actually applies to most spring-flowering wildflowers. They need to be planted in fall. That’s how nature handles it, so we must do so as well. They germinate in the fall, establish roots over the winter and are ready to pop into bloom when it starts to turn warm in the spring. Buy acid-treated bluebonnet seeds and plant them into lightly tilled soil where they won’t have to compete with turfgrass. The acid scarification ensures that most of the bluebonnets will germinate the first year. Without that treatment they would poke along germinating just a small percentage at a time.