Nancy Brachey

New plants will help us enjoy late summer into fall

Despite its name, Joe-pye weed is a beautiful perennial for late summer into autumn. It is a favorite of butterflies.
Despite its name, Joe-pye weed is a beautiful perennial for late summer into autumn. It is a favorite of butterflies.

I am thinking of cooler days ahead. Could that mean August will seem like a breath of spring after July’s heat wave? I sure hope so.

Despite the derision so often lobbed at August in the South, it has its merits. Besides a break from the heat (usually) and less intense sunlight, it brings a few plants that provide color and interest in the landscape for late summer into autumn

The first one I think about is a perennial called toad lily, which is a better looking flower than the name implies. The flowers, which look different enough to be conversation starters, appear on plants, growing in partial shade. The flowers typically have distinctive purple or mauve spots against white or palest lavender petals and sepals arranged in a very odd shape.

These flowers don’t remind me at all of toads, but they must have done so to someone because the common name is used more often than is the genus, tricyrtis. Perhaps the most common species in the marketplace is Tricyrtis macropoda, but there are many, including named varieties. Most grow about 2 feet tall in good, moist, but well-drained soil. It is not a plant for dry shade, as I found out a few years back.

The second one I am thinking about for the coming season is another with a bad name: Joe-pye weed. This is a beautiful perennial with clouds of dusky purple blooms in a sunny spot. The common name is applied to several tall species that can reach 5 to 7 feet or more. Shorter, named varieties also exist. Pay attention to the mature height on the plant tag when you buy to get the size that suits your landscape. The taller ones may require staking.

Joe-pye weed requires moist, well-drained soil in sun or with a bit of shade. Like many perennials, it should be cut back to the base when in winter, once it starts to look untidy.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. My flowers look ragged and heat-stressed. What should I do to freshen them up for the rest of the summer?

A. Deadheading, which means removal of spent flowers, is an important task to keep most annuals looking fresh. This is especially true of marigolds, zinnias and petunias. If impatiens are looking leggy, cut them back a bit as well. Doing this, plus a dose of fertilizer should give the plants the oomph to put out some fresh growth and blooms for the warm weeks ahead.

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