Nancy Brachey

Add some fresh bloom for summer into fall

Goldenrods are beautiful on their own but especially nice when butterflies enjoy the flowers, too.
Goldenrods are beautiful on their own but especially nice when butterflies enjoy the flowers, too. John D. Simmons

It is so hot that it seems tempting to ignore the fact that flower beds need a lift for now into late summer. But they do, and a couple of excellent perennials are waiting to do the job.

They are goldenrod, which has gained prominence as a garden flower in recent years, and Russian sage, a misty lavender plant. Both will help beds: Russian sage, from now and for many weeks ahead, and goldenrod, starting in late summer.

These are easy-to-grow perennials that add fine color to beds at a time when they are getting rather green. Their upright, spiked shape is also a nice change from the many rounded flowers we see in summer, such as Shasta daisies and asters.

A nice thing about both is the ease of growing them. Russian sage requires well-drained soil, but both it and goldenrod will prosper in average soil with little attention.

Garden centers sell named varieties of both perennials, which gives you choice in selecting for height, especially with goldenrod.

This was once a flower of the roadside, sort of wild, tall and rangy-looking. That was fine in the natural environment, but not quite the right look for a nice flower bed. Now, modern named goldenrods, bred for flower gardens, can be as short as 18 inches, such as Cloth of Gold, or 2 to 3 feet tall, such as Crown of Rays. Fireworks, which produces a long stretch of flowers along the arching stems, grows about 3 feet tall, and is one of the varieties that I see more often in garden centers. It doesn’t require staking even at that height. I have found it very reliable and quite good looking.

Clumps tend to develop densely over several seasons in light shade to full sun. A young plant set out this summer or fall may look quite thin at first. But the robust nature of goldenrod will let it develop into a good clump that will bear many stems from late summer into fall.

Russian sage also can be quite tall, 3 to 4 feet or so, and may require a little staking after stormy weather.

But it has a beautiful shape, with arching stems covered in small flowers all along the stems. The soft effect is very pretty, especially when combined with the golden-yellow flowers of goldenrod and perhaps a dash of blue, purple or white asters that also bloom from late summer. Some named varieties such as Blue Sprite are in the marketplace.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. My gardenias are way too tall now. How much can I prune them now?

A. The best rule to follow is to prune no more than one-third of the plant each year. If you do that and the plant is still too tall for you or the space it occupies, plan on cutting it back another third next year after blooming ends.

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