Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

September 2011

Succulents are hot. And for good reason. They take almost no maintenance, and they’re gorgeous! The images in today’s post are from a recent photo shoot on planting succulent container gardens, which will appear in an upcoming book.

I love the color and texture combinations in the mix at left, which includes a blooming Sedum cauticola Cola Cola, pink-tipped Violet Queen echeveria, purple-edged Gremlin kalanchoe, purple-striped Echeveria nodulosa, Aloe dorotheae Sunset, and Jitters jade plant.

Scroll down to see several other combinations that we shot that day. Which is your favorite? I have a hard time choosing just one.

A trio of succulent containers, including Aloe vera in the blue crate, echeveria in the round brown pot, and various cacti and Sedum nussbaumerianum in a square brown container.

A resin fountain converted into a succulent trough garden

An armillary filled with hens and chicks (Sempervivums)

Although fall has started its descent, a quick stroll through the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden proves there is still a lot of life left in the season. Here are just a few of the beauties I found flourishing in the garden.

The Knock Out shrub roses are literally a knockout in the garden. Once their blooms start kicking in spring, they’ll last up till the first hard frost in fall. It’s hard not to stop dead in your tracks to admire their beauty.

Close view of the Rainbow Knock Out shrub rose’s bloom.

Ornamental grasses are center stage right now–everywhere! The gracefulness of the switchgrass’ plumes are what makes it one of my favorites, not to mention grasses are a perfect addition to any garden for fall and winter appeal.

2008 Perennial of the YearRozanne Geranium is the longest blooming perennial geranium in the landscape right now.  I’ll be curious to see how long these flowers last this fall!

If you’ve got time or in the neighborhood, have your lunch in the test garden tomorrow–it’s open from 12-2pm! Otherwise, tune in next week…I’m anticipating a change in the scenery.

Mealybug on HibiscusEvery fall I bring into the house a large number of my favorite tropical plants from the summer season. Because I’m fortunate enough to live in a house with very large windows, I get enough light to keep most of my plants going through the cold months.


I’ve learned from experience that it’s vital to watch for pests — and treat them before they make it into the house. One of the most troublesome is mealybug. It looks like a little tiny white piece of cotton when young; it’s easy to miss. Mealybugs reproduce like wildfire — and just one hitchhiker can turn into a full-scale epidemic in just a couple of months.


Prevent pests from being problematic by:

  • Hosing off plants with a strong stream of water from the garden hose before you bring them in.
  • Carefully examining plants for the actual insects (a magnifying glass helps).
  • Spraying plants with insecticidal soap (available at your local garden center), making sure to get the tops and bottoms of the leaves.
  • Cutting plants back a bit, as many insects prefer to feed on the new growth.

Landreth SeedsIt’s been in the news for a while now, but D. Landreth Seed Company, out of Pennsylvania needs help. The nation’s oldest seed company has a goal of selling 1 million catalogs by the end of this month to end the threat of being forced out of business.

Besides offering an impressive number of flower and vegetable seeds (including some very cool heirlooms), the company also offers spring-blooming bulbs such as crocus and daffodils.

Learn more about Landreth’s situation — or click here to learn more about Landreth!

By the time the autumnal equinox rolls around most of my landscape looks bedraggled, awaiting the first hard freeze to put it out of its misery. But several sections are just now coming into their full glory. One that I like a lot, partly because it looks more like summer than fall to me, is the purple and gold border shown below. ‘Sunshine Daydream’ perennial sunflower (Helianthus multiflorus ‘Sunshine Daydream’) combines with ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’), Sunshine Blue bluebeard (Caryopteris incana ‘Jason’), leadplant (Amorpha canescens), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), and zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) to create a welcoming entry to the yard. If you look closely, you may be able to see that the zebra grass and Russian sage do double duty, screening the front yard utility boxes, too.

Purple and gold corner garden

front walk border

The walkway leading from the driveway to the front door is lined with texture-rich perennials that provide plenty of interest this time of year (see photo at left). Starting at the rear of the photo, maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’), narrowleaf ironweed (Vernonia lettermannii), dwarf crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica),’Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’) and bluestar amsonia (Amsonia hubrichtii) make a delightful combination. The feathery foliage of the maidengrass, the narrowleaf ironweed and the blue star amsonia create wonderful wispy repetition in the border. ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint blooms almost all summer long with fragrant blue blooms on silvery foliage. The dwarf crepe myrtles burst into color through summer’s heat. As cool fall weather arrives, their foliage transitions to glowing shades of yellow, orange, and maroon. (And, yes, they are root hardy here in Zone 5. It helps that they’re planted in a favorable microclimate, tucked between the concrete walkway and a southeast-facing brick wall. I cut them back to the ground each spring, and by late summer they’re loaded with pink and purple blooms.)

Yet another corner with an excellent early fall display is the backyard shrub border shown below. The focal point in this grouping is the seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides). It’s just starting to bloom now. As its white flowers fade, the sepals will turn pink, providing extended color well into fall. Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) brings a splash of gold to the combination. As fall progresses, the yellow leaves will take on orange and scarlet tones. In front of Tiger Eyes, purple flame grass (Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’) glows with silvery seedheads. It’s just beginning to develop its fiery orange fall foliage. ‘Cranberry Crush’ hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Cranberry Crush’) is pushing out its last few blooms while taking on deeper red leaf color with the onset of cool autumn weather.

Which late-season combinations do you have in your yard? Show us or tell us about some of your favorite pairings.

fall shrub border

The official low temperature this morning was 41 degrees F in Des Moines, but the frost on the narrowleaf zinnias, at left, prooves that it was colder in my yard. My home is in a frost pocket, despite its location at the top of a hill. Every time the weather forecast calls for “scattered frost”, it’s a sure bet that ice crystals will develop on exposed plants.

Last night I prepared for the cold by moving container gardens under the deck canopy, onto the front porch, or into the garage. I also pulled out the floating row covers to protect tomatoes, peppers, and some of the more cold-sensitive bedding plants, such as coleus. But Christo-draping the yard with fabric can only go so far. Inevitably, some annuals remain unprotected.

Floating row cover protects the coleus planting by the mailbox.

I may have salvaged some of the uncovered flowers by watering them early this morning before sunrise. After melting the ice out of the hose, I sprayed water on the icy plants to melt the frost. If the ice crystals were only on the surface of the blooms, this may be enough to rescue the frosty flowers. I hope so. I’d like to get another month of color from them. Mid-September is simply too early to call it quits on the gardening season, don’t you agree?

Tomatoes in cages and pepper plants covered for frost protection

Binder clips attached to the tomato cages work pretty well to hold floating row cover in place when it doesn't reach all the way to the ground. Otherwise, I use bricks or rocks to secure the row cover.

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