Late performers can screen out shabby foliage
Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 10:11 pm
Just 2 1/2 weeks away, dog days will exit for another year. Those are the times when dogs do indeed laze around, unwilling to move unless something really succulent (a skunk, say) should venture too close.
Dog days are, in reality, named for the astronomical phenomenon of the dog star rising and setting with the sun. Nonetheless, they do indeed coincide with what are, on average, our hottest and muggiest days of the whole year.
It’s about now, if not before, when many fair-weather gardeners throw in the trowel for another season and retire to the air conditioner or lake house. There, they while away the rest of the summer and leave such oppressive toil as hoeing and weeding to those of us with little enough sense to keep at it.
It is true that late summer, before cooler nights mitigate the unpleasantry, sees some pretty disgusting sights in many gardens. It is a chore indeed to keep up appearances when foliage and flower alike seem to be determined to rot away before our very eyes.
Some early perennials go off rather tattily. Peonies and daylilies are prime examples. When sited near the front of a bed they stand out like a sore arm toward the end of the growing season.
What few daylilies and peonies I grow (the latter are down to two and one is destined for peony Gehenna right away) I try to site toward the back of a border and let later things, annual or perennial, take over after the foliage of the offenders has become derelict.
A wonderful perennial for such a screening job is a tall sedum. Autumn Joy has been the classic one in recent years, and indeed it is excellent. Matrona grows a bit taller on reddish stems and there are several new ones with black or deep maroon foliage.
These sedums can be allowed to grow during early summer until they are a foot or so tall. Then, if they are slashed in half the autumn stems will be shorter and this lessens the likelihood of sprawling, which is a probability in rich soil.
Bloom heads in September will be smaller but more numerous after such treatment and stems will still be tall enough to minimize ugly stuff behind them.
There are numerous other late bloomers which will do the job, including mums and asters. Many of the latter, however, will insist on growing too tall, even with pinching, so choose a variety that will stay within bounds. Purple Dome is a fine one for this and, even unpinched or sheared, will seldom reach more than 18 inches.
However, sometimes a seedling of it will enter the picture and stealthily wriggle its way in and eventually reach perhaps three feet or more.
A requisite of any front-line screening plant is, of course, a neat appearance throughout the season, or why else would you want it in front?
There are precious few early blooming plants that hold acceptable foliage after bloom and through to the final days before frost. Most perennials with season-long foliage of acceptable quality are late flowering.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 7.29.08