Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
September, 2005
Regional Report

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Oxblood lilies emerge with the first rains of fall to announce the end of summer.

Harbingers of a New Gardening Season

Spend one summer in the south and you'll know that we have not one long gardening season but two shorter ones -- spring and fall. Summer arrives to shut down most gardening activities and send us indoors to only venture out in the early-morning and late-afternoon hours.

Fall is the prime season for gardening. Those gardeners who have been peering from the air-conditioned indoors waiting for summer to end can find the grand announcement in a few plants that are programmed to proclaim the arrival of fall. I welcome their arrival as a harbinger of better gardening days to come and a "heads up" to get busy out in the garden.

Long-Awaited Flowers of Fall
The vanguard of bulbs that signal the end of summer is the oxblood or schoolhouse lily (Rhodophiala bifida). These bold bulbs push up through the fried remains of a summer landscape in early fall with the arrival of the first good rain. They only bloom for a short time but their amaryllis-like flowers put on quite a display. Then thin strappy foliage appears to replenish the bulbs until it dies back with the return of warm weather in late spring.

Not far behind are the blooms of spider lily (Lycoris radiata), which also emerge prior to the foliage to display their spidery red finery. Foliage will follow to replenish the bulbs for another performance next fall.

Goldenrod, often mistakenly blamed for fall allergies, is another sign of summer's end. Since they grow wild in the south I have not planted them in my landscape, but I enjoy them blooming in wild areas around the property. They make great cut flowers, too.

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) makes fall worth waiting for by putting on quite a display of purple bloom spikes atop large, mounded plants with grey-green foliage. There is an all-purple form, and a semi-dwarf variety, 'Santa Barbara', that makes it possible to grow Mexican bush sage in areas too confined for the standard type, which tends to spread out to cover a 6-foot area.

Fall aster (Aster oblongifolius) is one of the last fall flowers to appear. This obscure plant hides in plain view all season, but when it loads up with its light purple blooms it really steals the show. There are plenty more fall bloomers worth mentioning, including fall obedient plant Physostegia virginiana), mountain sage (Salvia regla), Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida), copper canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii), and chrysanthemum, to name a few.

When these harbingers of fall arrive, I know that the year's best gardening season is here at last.

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