Favorite or New Plant
'Henry Eilers' Sweet Coneflower
If you're looking for an easy-care, late blooming perennial, consider adding Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers,' also called sweet coneflower, to your late summer line-up. This a North American native with flowers that set it apart from the many fall "daisies." Looking like something out of a Dr. Seuss illustration (one catalog describes them as "asterisks"), its 2-inch wide blossoms consist of rolled, quill-like petals in a distinctive, dusty yellow with a brown eye. Hardy in zones 4-8, sweet coneflower reaches 4-5 feet tall on sturdy stems that don't need staking. This prairie plant does best in full sun and average soil and is drought-tolerant once established. Try violet-blue 'Bluebird' smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) as a garden companion.
Clever Gardening Technique
Vacation-Proof Container Plants
To help plants survive while you are on vacation, group outdoor containers -- especially clay pots -- together to shade the pots and slow evaporation. Slipping clay pots inside larger plastic pots will help too. Move them all into the shade if possible. You can even erect a temporary shade structure out of shade cloth draped over sawhorses. Before you leave, soak the pots in a kiddie swimming pool or a large bucket to make sure the rootball is saturated.
If you come home from vacation to a dried-out container, don't despair. Some plants will wilt dramatically but come back once moistened. If the water you add from the top pours right through, place the entire container in a bucket of water and let the water soak into the soil from below. If it's still hot and sunny out, place the plant in a shady, cool spot for a few days. Remove damaged foliage and hold off on fertilizer until you see it has recovered.