Spruce up that lawn and garden for fall

September 04, 2007|By ANNETTE IPSAN

How is your garden doing? How about your lawn?

Could both use a bit of sprucing up?

Here are a few pointers to spiff up both your lawn and garden for fall.

Perennials pop color

If your garden is lacking some color, jazz it up with some fall-blooming beauties. Mums are fine, just fine, but there are plenty of other perennials that pop color in autumn.

Goldenrod delivers golden arcs of tiny flowers with big impact. Try the foot-high 'Golden Fleece' or the spectacular 4-foot 'Fireworks' that looks just like its namesake.


And no, neither will make you sneeze: that's the villainous ragweed.

Feeling blue?

Then try some plumbago. This hardy perennial tops out at 8 inches, but packs serious color punch with indigo flowers and leaves that tinge to burgundy and fiery red. Plus, it thrives in sun or shade.

Sedums are the tough broads of the fall garden. These fleshy succulents weather hot sunny days without a whimper and burst into blazing colors as they bloom.

Look beyond the ubiquitous 2-foot 'Autumn Joy' to discover the octopus-like rays of October daphne or dozens of other cultivars that flower in deep red to soft pink.

Oh, and about those mums. They often aren't perennial here, having a tough time weathering our winters. To protect them, wait to cut them back until spring to give their crowns maximum protection.

Colorful shrubs

If it's a color-drenched shrub you're after, try a purple beautyberry.

Envision fistfuls of purple berries cascading among teardrop leaves. Callicarpa dichotoma is one spectacular shrub, a 6-foot beauty that will have the neighbors - and the birds - singing your praises.

Also praiseworthy is the bluebeard or blue mist shrub. The airy 5-foot cloud of Caryopertis clothes itself in powder blue blossoms from August to October, delighting butterflies and bees.

For spectacular leaf color, it's hard to beat a fothergilla. (Say, "father-gill-uh.") White bottle-brush flowers in May are followed by scalloped leaves that tinge a long-lasting red, orange and yellow in the fall.

Grow a green, green lawn

And now it's time to pay attention to the backdrop for all this color: your lawn.

This is the ideal time to renovate your lawn.

A healthy lawn starts with healthy roots. A combination of aerating, amending, seeding and watering in fall builds vigorous roots so that your lawn will look better than ever next year.

First, invigorate your lawn with aeration.

This is really nothing more than pulling up small plugs of soil so that air, water and nutrients can get in and roots have room to grow. Simply rent an aerator at any rental center.

It's fine - and preferred - to let the soil plugs break down naturally on the ground.

After aerating your lawn, improve your soil by topdressing with an organic material. Broadcast a thin - 1/4 to 1/2-inch - layer of compost, aged manure or leaf mold over your lawn.

Next, overseed any thin areas of your lawn with a good tall fescue mix. Buy fresh seed with little or no weed seed content that's clearly labeled and blended for this area. Tamp or roll it in and keep it well watered until it is established.

This is also a good time to reseed dead patches of grass. Remove the dead grass and loosen an inch or two of soil.

Work in some compost. Add seed, tamp it in and cover with a bit of straw. Again, keep the area moist until the grass is established.

I know it's difficult, but wait to mow your new grass until it's at least 3 1/2 inches high.

Remember, you shouldn't cut off any more than a third of the blade when you mow and 2 1/2 inches is the ideal height for a healthy lawn.

If you'd like more information on lawn care, write or e-mail me to request a copy of our fact sheet, "Lawn Establishment, Renovation and Overseeding".

It's also available free online at

The green, green grass of summer may fade as the season wanes.

But the reward is saturated color from your new fall plantings and the anticipation of a verdant lawn in 2008.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, or by e-mail at

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