Get mums. Here are my two rules for picking the best flowers: 1. Don’t shop wearing sunglasses, or you’ll find you chose all the wrong colors when you get them home. 2. Pick plants that have two-thirds blooms and one-third buds. That way, you’ll get maximum length of enjoyment as new blossoms open to replace the ones that fade. Just make sure to keep the plants well-watered, or the little buds will wither before they can open. And don’t be surprised when, sunglasses or no, buds may open with one color, pass through another, and settle on a third.
Look up! Tall weeds and perennials that have been taking up a lot of garden real estate are suddenly showing you why they bothered. Many of the black-eyed-susan-related folks, like Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke,) Rudbeckia laciniata (prairie coneflower) and rudbeckia triloba (brown-eyed susan) are bursting into bloom high over our heads. They’re all covered with butterflies and bees right now and provide quite a show from a distance. You need distance to see them, because they’re six to nine feet up. NOTE: The aforementioned all spread like wildfire, so choose carefully where you plant them.
Foil the bugs. Plant some spring mix. Or maybe we should call it fall mix. In any case, it’s a wonderful mélange of greens, and it’s time to get it in the ground. Many lettuces and mustards will mature to eating size in 45 to 60 days, plenty of time to have a full salad by Thanksgiving. But anything in the mustard/cabbage/cole/brassica family needs to be seriously protected. Cover completely with insect netting or harvest guard/row cover. It’s even more critical now than in the spring, because many more insects are around, even more desperate to reproduce with the season finale coming up soon.
Sally McCabe is associate director of community education at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (phsonline.org) and a co-owner of Cobblestone Krautery (www.cobblestonekrautery.com).