Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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It's been a really, really short gardening season this year for those of us without greenhouses.
Steamboat Springs is living up to its billing as a place with a 59-day growing season with our late start and now early onset of cooler weather.
Fortunately, there are some USDA Zone 4 plants for our mountain area that can withstand some frosty temperatures for a while and continue adding color to your landscape. If you'd like to make the season last a little longer, intersperse a few of these plantings among your other perennials and annuals, fruits, vegetables and shrubs.
A first step to making your garden look better in the fall is to remove annuals that have died and deadhead perennials that no longer have blooms or nice-looking foliage. Keep the interesting-looking seed heads, ornamental grasses, and plants with nice foliage, as well as the seed heads from plants that you wish to propagate or plants that provide migrating birds with food as they pass through our area.
Then, look at your garden and see where some nice fall perennials and annuals would complement your established plants. You might consider placing a few container plants in these bare areas that can be moved elsewhere in the garden in the spring or indoors once the snow starts sticking around for the winter.
Here are some fall plants to consider placing in your garden:
One of my favorites is the coneflower (Echinacea), which requires little water once established and blooms late in the summertime. The button seed heads left after the pink petals have dropped are attractive and provide food for birds and chipmunks. Black-eyed Susan (Redbeckia) and Gallardia plants also provide a late-season splash of orange, red and gold colors, as well as interesting skeletons once the flowers are gone.
Bleeding heart (Dicentra) is a beautiful, delicate plant whose usually pink flowers can handle light frosts. It provides pretty foliage all season. It requires a moist and shady area of your garden.
Some of the ornamental cabbages and kale provide interesting, colorful and frost-tolerant borders in your garden. Sedums also last a long time in the garden. One of my favorites for the fall is Sedum Autumn Joy, whose leaves turn a reddish-orange in the fall. Oak-leaf Sedum sports pretty yellow flowers in mid-summer, but if you deadhead it soon after the flowers are done blooming, you often will get a second bloom and new foliage later into the fall.
Monkshood (Aconitum) is a striking purple-blue flower that comes out in the fall. The flower is reminiscent of a cowl on a cloak that monks might wear. Other plants that sport blue flowers in the fall include Gentian and Harebells (Campanula).
Fall asters are readily available at most of the local garden centers and come in all shades of yellows, oranges, golds, and rusts. They can be planted in the garden or left in pots set into bare spots left by plants that have gone dormant for the season.
Ornamental grasses add interest, color (green in spring and summer, but turning golden yellow in the fall and winter) as well as a soothing sound as the wind blows through the blades. Two varieties that grow well in the Steamboat area include "Karl Foerster" (Calamagrostis) and Fountain Grass (Pennisetum).
Also, petunias, pansies and daisies can be found in a rainbow of colors.
Yarrow (Achillea), Marigolds (Calendula) and Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa) are other good choices for a fall garden.
For nice groundcover, try Periwinkle (Vinca). Mine stays green under the snow throughout the winter and pops up fresh as soon as the snow melts.
One other fall favorite of mine is a bulb, autumn crocus. It shoots up some tall foliage in the spring and then lies in wait all summer long before popping out of the ground with a beautiful pink waterlily-looking flower in late fall. It's a stunner.
Once some of the fall gourds and pumpkins arrive at the grocery store, pick up a few and add accents to your garden with display of these bright orange, gold, yellow and green lovelies.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825.