Binetti: This is the month to shift gardening gears, replace plants

On GardeningSeptember 4, 2013 

The “ber” months begin as autumn ushers in the cold but here in Western Washington we still have a month of warm weather to enjoy.

This is the time to get serious about deadheading, cutting back and watering well if you want to enjoy summer flowers up until the first hard frost. Don’t fret if your hanging baskets, container gardens or blooming beds are looking sunburned and summer worn. September begins the show of “Fall Magic” and this is the month when local nurseries renew their stock for a fresh season of flowers ahead.

September is also the month to take a critical look at those plants in the landscape with serious drinking problems. You can lower your water bill and raise your real estate value by replacing wilted, leaf-dropping rhododendrons, and sun-scorched hydrangeas with drought-resistant trees and shrubs that will happily survive on rainfall alone.

Enjoy the colors of a second spring with Fall Magic:

Your pooped-out petunias and faded fuchsias can be added to the compost pile because making your summer-weary landscape disappear in a blaze of autumn glory is as easy as pulling a rabbit foot’s fern out of a hat. Here are three quick changes you can do now:

1. Yank out the tallest plant in your potted flowering container and replace it with the colorful stems and leaves of “Rainbow Delight” Swiss chard. This nutritious and shade-tolerant vegetable will provide greens all winter long — and by growing it near the kitchen on a porch or patio you’ll have easy access to fresh chard during cold weather. A beautiful bonus is how nice Swiss Chard looks with winter pansies and autumn mums.

2. Fill a basket with potted mums and pumpkins. No need to dig, buy potting soil or get your hands dirty. Just bring home some already potted-up mum plants and set them still in their pots inside a bushel basket, hollowed out pumpkin or anything vintage or rusty. An old wagon or wheelbarrow is ideal. Hide the plastic pots with pumpkins and gourds or even colorful fallen leaves. Now you have an autumn display that celebrates the change in seasons. Tip: Check daily to make sure the potted mums have moist soil and buy mum plants with plenty of buds for a long bloom season.

3. Beautify your borders with heucheras. These leafy perennial plants are heaven sent for the gardener that wants both fall and winter color. Grouping peach, orange and burgundy heucheras into color families near walkways and into container gardens is a quick way to cast a warm autumn glow to the landscape. Add some spikes of ornamental grasses, the rich tones of purple and blue asters and fill in with some low growing winter pansies. The fresh color and new buds is sure to spike a bout of spring fever — even in September.


Does your landscape drink too much? September is a good month to have an intervention and forcibly remove any landscape plants that need constant water. Adding organic matter to the soil and covering roots with a blanket of mulch will help to conserve water around many shrubs, but another choice is to plant the drought-resistant couples below for a beautiful plant marriage – with no drinking problems.

Think full sun: Royal purple smoke tree and golden nugget barberry — these two thrive even in rocky or sandy soil. You’ll enjoy great fall and spring color from the contrast in foliage. Surround the taller smoke tree with three to five dwarf barberry plants. You can also find Golden Spirit smoke trees with glistening gold leaves and use dark purple barberry plants for a color contrast in the same bed. Neither of these plants drink too much or demand extra attention. Now that’s what I call a marriage of convenience.

For dry shade: Look to Goldstrike Aucuba and Japanese anemones. The tall delicate blooms of autumn-blooming Japanese anemones come in shades of white, pink and purple and these perennial plants come back year after year even if grown in the dry shade of cedar and fir trees.

Just don’t plant this garden tramp in fertile soil or she will spread quickly and invade other beds. Aucuba is a very well behaved evergreen shrub with large shiny leaves that will thrive in even the darkest shade. Gold spots on the variety Mr. Goldstrike light up any dark corner, but Aucuba is especially valuable near a dark entry where the house would provide protection from winter winds.

For part sun/shade: Japanese maples and winter creeper euonymus. Add plenty of organic matter to the soil at planting time and the spectacular Japanese maple will thrive on rainfall alone — but like all newly planted trees and shrubs you will need to keep the soil moist until the roots are established.

The low-growing, evergreen euonymus such as Emerald Gaiety or the golden Emerald and Gold euonymus adds sweeps of year-long, weed-blocking color. Japanese maples have great figures, come in many shades and leaf sizes and love our winter wet climate. This is the best time of year to add a Japanese maple to the landscape.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at

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