It is now, 100 percent, no-doubt-about-it fall. And that means prime time for planting the flowering shrubs you admired through the spring and summer.
The air is cool, the soil is soft and damp and garden centers are stocked. Once planted, the roots will have many months to develop and settle down in their new spot before warm weather.
Choices seem endless, but some rise above all others. Here are my top five.
Long a Piedmont favorite, azaleas raised their status even more with the introduction of this category of repeat-flowering azaleas. With four new introductions this fall, the number of varieties is up to 25. Colors include white, pink, coral, orange, purple and red. Some are short enough for small beds or foundation plantings in shade; others can reach 4 feet to make an evergreen screen. The biggest flush of flowers is in midspring. There may be a small flush of new flowers in summer, but the best repeating is in autumn. Since these fall flowers open as the days grow cooler, blooms tend to last weeks instead of days.
The best evergreen shrubs for a shady Piedmont landscape, camellias arrive with many advantages: exquisite flowers, glossy green foliage, and shapely plants. This is not a category of limited choices. Choose the Camellia sasanqua for beautiful flowers in the fall and early winter. The even more diverse Camellia japonica can be chosen from varieties that bloom between January and March. Some, such as old favorites Lady Clare and Professor Sargent, tend to bloom continuously from early winter to early spring, providing the weather doesn’t go Arctic. Check the mature height on the label and plant with room to grow.
Every landscape requires at least one shrub famed for fragrance. Daphne odora is a neat, small evergreen for shade to part-shade, rising slowly to only a few feet tall. The flowers open in clusters in mid-to-late winter with an intense sweet scent. This is not a plant to stick in the far corner of your landscape. Rather, place it by a door or walkway where you’ll enjoy it. The most attractive winter daphnes are variegated ones with yellow margins around the leaves. Daphne requires careful planting to ensure excellent drainage and avoid root rot. Set the root ball so that much of it is above ground level, then cover with soil and lightweight mulch.
Endless Summer hydrangea
There has never been a better time for hydrangeas than now, with many new ones in the marketplace offering style and beauty. In our acidic soil, the flower color is an exceptional sky blue; in more alkaline soil, it would be pink. What keeps the show going is the plant’s ability to bloom on both old and new wood. The shrub is shapely, growing 3 to 5 feet. It does best in part shade. The combination of a stretch of Endless Summer hydrangeas with a background of trees that allow sunlight to filter through is beautiful. If you prefer white, consider Blushing Bride.
Many choices are out there, bearing flowers of purple, pink, white or yellow. This plant requires sun and space. Some choices rise 6 feet, which makes it a good background plant for a large flower bed or the corner of a tall house. Annual pruning in late winter will keep it shapely. The bush loses most of its foliage in the winter, but doesn’t look terrible. You get fresh new foliage every spring, before the flowers appear to entice the butterflies.