Q: I’m in the late-summer doldrums. Isn’t there anything new that I can plant for a burst of color? — Amy Milton, Townsend, Del.
A: Think shrubs. A single flowering specimen can brighten a drab summer landscape. As a matter of fact, there’s a spectacular new plant, Heptacodium miconoides, from western China, that’s just showing up in specialty catalogs. This shrub blooms in late summer with fragrant, creamy flowers. In autumn its sepals, reminiscent of a smokebush crossed with Joe-Pye weed, create a cerise haze. Or how about something old? In the quest for the latest models, we gardeners sometimes turn up our noses at the “stodgy” old reliables. And many of grandma’s favorites are just the thing to fill the late-summer gap in the landscape. You could start with the old-fashioned rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, with its tropical-looking blossoms, or try some of the hardier cultivars of crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica. And don’t forget hydrangeas. Hydrangea paniculata makes a spectacular show from late summer into autumn. The natives H. quercifolia and H. arborescens begin blooming earlier, in July and August. They have a soft look that goes well in shade gardens. And the hortensia types are perfect for filling a bare spot in the sun.
Getting your hands in the dirt right now might help lift your spirits. Early autumn is ideal for planting deciduous trees and shrubs. The warm soil and cool air minimize transplant shock. And because the plants are busy putting down food stores in their roots rather than trying to grow tops, root establishment is often quicker and stronger than in the spring.