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Hardy plants hanging on

Purple asters at the Rod and Dianne Loberg home. Photos by Mary Jane Breitling 1 / 2
Blue salvia, verbena and mums. Photo by Mary Jane Breitling 2 / 2

Frost has killed most of our annual plants and turned the perennials to fall colors. Many annuals have been hanging on as a bonus. The survivors seem to be the hardier ones that were kept moist and those that are in protected areas.

I have three large containers with almost identical plantings in the same garden. The annuals in two of them died after the temperature went down to the 20s, so I pulled them and their soil was completely dry. The third container is still blooming as the moisture was good in that pot.

It gets to be quite a chore to keep everything watered at the end of the season, but high winds and an occasional hot day dries things out very quickly. Planters and window boxes protected by the house have also kept their foliage and flowers through the last week in October.

Annuals having late blooms for me include geraniums, verbena, lobelia, alyssum, snapdragons, fibrous begonia, nasturtium, blue salvia “Victoria,” some petunias and lots of purple Johnny-jump-ups.

Ornamental cabbage, kale, Swiss chard and parsley will keep going until a very hard freeze. I added a few annual mums and some bright orange pumpkins for more color. Perennial mums and asters are blooming at this time also. I highly recommend the perennial “Mammoth Mum,” which grows to the size of a small shrub.

From August on, the list of perennials in bloom is short. Phlox, Russian sage, monarda (beebalm) rudbeckia, purple coneflowers and tall sedums are the stars at this time. Tall garden phlox is one of my favorite late-blooming perennials. I have an old-fashioned variety that began blooming in August and continued until I cut it down not long ago. I still see rudbeckia’s golden flowers in gardens along the way. It is best to leave the heads on these, coneflowers, astilbes, sedums and grasses for winter interest and to attract birds.

Ornamental cabbage and Swiss chard. Photo by Mary Jane BreitlingAs I planted tulips this fall, I found that the ground was moist for about 3 inches, and deeper it was very dry. Hopefully, we will get more rain, but we need to take steps to protect our gardens in case we have no more rain and the possibility of an open winter. Last winter was very hard on our perennials as there was a lack of sufficient snow cover.

You may be a gardener that prefers everything cut down for a neat and tidy look, but leaving most perennials standing provides improved hardiness for most and especially mums and salvias. Peonies and iris should be cut down because of disease problems. Scattering shredded tree leaves can help protect some beds. After a week of freezing you may apply a winter mulch to your perennial gardens. This will prevent the disturbance of plants from freezing and thawing over winter and spring months.

I brought in as many container plantings as there is room under my lights and around the house.

I place yellow sticky cards among them to keep the fungus gnats in check. The rest of the containers will have to take their chances in my unheated garage. Now, the garden is put to bed and the gardener gets a long winter’s rest.

Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener.