The transition from summer to fall is gradual, not as abrupt as the first killing frost which signals the turn from fall to winter. The shift from summer to fall is gentle. Even though days are still hot, nights have already turned cooler and days are shortening.
Recent rain has brought gardens back to life, along with germinating weed seeds and a boost to the insect population. The various troublesome weeds are all back, along with some new ones. I imagine birds are dropping the seeds from the sky into my yard.
During the summer I found a few insect species not as predictable as previous years. Tomato hornworms arrived in my garden a month or so later than usual. Kudzu bugs did not visit at all. I saw fewer than usual stink bugs. Annoying omnipresent insect pests like aphids and mites, however, will persist until the first killing frost.
Currently, grasshoppers are enormous in their mature stage. They feed on nearly all cultivated plants, eating entire leaves or large holes in the foliage. They normally lay their eggs in grassy weedy soil between August and October.
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Consequently, the first line of defense against next year’s brood is good sanitation in your garden and the bordering areas. When they are mature they jump and fly, making them difficult to catch and hard to kill as they travel from garden to garden.
For 15 years my ripening beautyberries have been my indicator that the summer has changed to fall. Fifteen years ago the berries ripened by the end of September. The occurrence has drifted over time to the beginning of September. This year some of the berries were bright fuchsia in the middle of August.
My cleome blooms waned significantly by the middle of August this summer. I’ve already pulled out most of the spent plants. Cleomes have been a sure bet in the past for summer long blooms.
Meanwhile, my tibouchina took such a hit from the periods of cold last winter that it had not reared even a leaf when I repeatedly checked for it earlier this season. I didn’t pull out its lifeless roots because I was unwilling to give up hope that it would resurrect itself. Surprisingly, last week I found a foot-tall tibouchina stem full of leaves growing from the root mass.
Weather extremes seem to have already undermined some predictability in my garden. It will be interesting as time makes change clearer.
Fall is a season that calls for its own flowers, vegetables and aesthetics. It is not a call to start putting the garden to bed the way gardeners do in colder climate zones.
Perennials like asters, black-eyed Susan, blanket flower, Echinacea, goldenrod, Joe Pye weed and, of course, chrysanthemums provide spectacular color. Add any combination of these plants to your landscape for yearly return blooms. Don’t forget marigolds and petunias now, and winter annuals like ornamental cabbage and kale along with pansies and snapdragons as the daytime temperatures drop.
In the vegetable garden, cole crops (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale, for example) and salad greens (lettuce, mustard, arugula etc.) are less likely to bolt. In fact, these plants thrive in cool temperatures. The same is true for dill and cilantro. Root vegetables like beets, carrots and turnips are all well suited for a fall vegetable garden. The most likely pests on fall crops are various caterpillars which can be controlled with Bt or spinosad.
Fall light is especially beautiful. The sun is at a lower angle in the sky and therefore less direct. It produces backlighting which makes ornamental grasses look especially attractive. Japanese maples and a variety of architectural plants show well in fall light. The bright orange fruit on persimmon and pomegranate trees looks almost jewel-like in a landscape.
A fall garden can be every bit as immersing as a spring-summer garden. If you don’t keep a garden journal you might want to start a log of garden events. It will make each season more interesting as you work your way through change.
Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at firstname.lastname@example.org.