In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
November, 2009
Regional Report

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Don't overlook the small ornamental grasses for a "pop" in a flower bed.

Autumn hues

It's called "fall color" in other parts of the country, but green still dominates our regions. We do have plants that change color this time of year and others that are just coming into their own.

Plumes are Flowers
Ornamental grasses offer great contrast now, with plumes in several colors and shapes. Each has a place in our gardens, but choose their sites carefully and maintain them. Cut down the old plumes before they launch their seeds willy-nilly, and shear off the mound annually. When it's time to divide grasses, dig up the entire clump and saw it into pieces for replanting.

Good old pampas grass is a favorite of some and a nuisance to others. Too often pampas is an inherited plant left along with a few spindly shrubs and untended palms by a previous homeowner. And too often the grass has overgrown the inadequate space provided. As a windbreak at the far end of a property, or lining a long driveway -- wherever pampas grass can be spaced with at least 12 feet on every side -- it is dramatic. A dwarf pampas is less widely available, but worth seeking out for its shorter but equally beautiful ecru plumes.

For a cotton candy pink glow in the fall, choose native muhly grass. It is well suited for sandy soils and other garden soils that drain well. Not a fast grower, this grass reaches its prime after about three years. If you want a big show sooner, plant muhly grass closer together and plan to dig some entire plants up when they become crowded.

Don't over look the smaller grasses, like 'Little Bunny' pennisetum, at its prime this month. These neat little clumps offer contrast to other small clumping perennials like liriope, and display finer texture with feathery white plumes.

Screaming Yellow Flowers
Perhaps yellow flowers are Nature's way of giving us colors that can stand up to the bright orange of fall's pumpkins. Their natural companion color, bright gold, is everywhere, from perennial sunflowers on the roadside to candelabra trees started from seed in the spring and zinnias planted in August. We add bright gold chrysanthemum and calendula to pots and beds, along with pansies where conditions permit. The classic pansy variety 'Majestic Giant' is a mix of popular colors, but in every planting, the gold shines brightest.

One gold, goldenrod, isn't brought into gardens much. My neighbor stopped tending his side of the bed that divides our yards, and there's a fine stand of goldenrod there now. It doesn't make me sneeze; in fact, it's the less showy "wildflowers" that spew more allergen-rich pollen.

More Fall Flowers
Reblooming shrubs, like Encore azaleas and many lorapetalum, soften the color palette with colors on the red-pink-purple side. In busy landscapes, their spring bloom may be overlooked, but in fall they simply shine. Sasanquas in every size are blooming wildly this month, in part because of the rainfall pattern during the summer that boosted their buds. Reliable for sure, sasanquas do bloom even in dry years, but this year they have been spectacular. Fall color may not be associated with our regions, but everywhere you look, it's here.


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