Gardening Blog

It's autumn, let the planting begin

The colors of autumn are in trees, shrubs and the "hangers on," as I call the flowers of summer that managed to survive the dry heat. Many have perked up with the cooler weather and some rain. Hats tipped to fanflowers, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, day lilies, vinca and zinnias.

You can bet these survivors will keep their place in the garden until a light frost knocks them down. The fall flowers to be planted in October and November will find their way around them. If, like me, you're thinking of planting more flowering bulbs this fall, the time to order is now.

For new gardeners to this warm winter Lowcountry, autumn here is not just planting time for trees, shrubs and early spring blooming bulbs; it is prime time for setting in summer blooming perennial flowers. The previously mentioned coneflowers and "Susans" (Rudbeckia) are perennial, and those who are growing them now know to let them go to seed for all summer and fall color next year. Annual zinnias, too, left in the ground to form seed, will produce seedlings next spring.

Whether we grow our winter annuals from seed, to be planted now and again in late winter, or find the plants we want at our local nurseries, we are reminded again how fortunate we are to live in a climate that allows us to have, at almost no cost, a colorful bouquet or two in our home all winter. Thriving in cool weather are snapdragons, stock, violas and pansies, sweet alyssum, lobelia, larkspur, foxgloves and kale.

Kale? Indeed, yes. Today's winter vegetable varieties are as decorative as many winter-blooming flowers. Eye-catching kale has blue-green color with curled leaves. "Bright Lights" Swiss chard is as ornamental as any snapdragon, and kohlrabi, which has been called classy, has a gourmet glamour of above ground purple-tinted bulbs and blue green leaves. You can almost forget that this nutritious vegetable is a member of the cabbage-cauliflower-broccoli clan.

All this flower and vegetable talk is just a lead into the serious subject at hand. If you're not ordering your fall-planting spring and summer blooming bulbs, you're not being fair to your yard.

Not enough sun to grow daffodils you say? We forget that when the leaves fall off of our deciduous trees. This gives the daffodil bulb the sunlight to grow and lower. Given the good drainage under the naked tree, you have the perfect spot for planting spring-flowering bulbs. Not so much the late spring and the summer-flowering bulbs; they will need to be planted away from the trees. It's a good idea to order these summer flowers now, to give them time to settle in.

If I had but enough money to buy only one or two summer-flowering bulbs, no contest, the money goes to the red spider lily, Lycoris radiata.

The stem rises from the ground overnight and there it is, a 10-inch brilliant red flower the size and shape of a large ball. This surprise happens in September in our climate.

If planted in afternoon shade, the flower will last about three days. It is then that the foot-long, strap-shaped leaves emerge. Red spider lily is an heirloom bulb that is easily passed from hand to hand as it produces offsets.

Other summer-flowering bulbs to order now are hardy gladiolus (Byzantinus). Blooms are a deep pink and make great cut flowers and Lycoris, the "White Spider Lily," blooming in summer, is naked (without leaves) and very showy.

Most bulb catalogs list freesia as an indoor bulb. I've grown freesia bulbs outdoors for more then 25 years.

They are spectacular, in that you're never sure when they will appear. Usually a couple dozen or so emerge and flower in February; they, or their kin, may flower in summer. Freesias are hard to keep track of, being of a spreading nature. That's the fun of a flowering bulb, almost all have a surprise quality, maybe it's the number of flowers on a single stem, or a high perfume scent, or that this year it popped up clear across the yard from where it was planted.


Diane Middleton, bulb queen of the Hilton Head Island Garden Council, tells me that she is sold out of the seven varieties of daffodils that have been grown and tested the last two years for their adaptability to the South by members of the council. The good news is that she has ordered more.

To place your order call Diane at 843-342-5884 before Oct. 15. Delivery will be in October. Proceeds from the sale will go to the Xeriscape Garden at Hilton Head Island Town Hall.


The 2013 All Saints Episcopal Church Garden Tour will accept grant application requests at the church office no later than Oct. 14. Send requests to 3001 Meeting St., Hilton Head Island, SC 29926 Attention: Fred Gebler, 2013 Garden Tour Chairman