Create a beautiful autumn garden; see how Amherst gardener does it

toad lily in Amherst NY
You can see the delicate mottling of the toad lily in Connie Krueger’s late-summer garden. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko


by Connie Oswald Stofko

The many trees and shrubs in Connie Krueger’s backyard filtered the blazing afternoon sun. It was relaxing to be sheltered from the heat while being able to enjoy the colorful plants in both sunny and shady areas.

And guess what? It was already after Labor Day!

While your garden might peak in July, you can still enjoy your garden in autumn.

Krueger shared her landscape during Open Gardens this summer, and her yard is still lovely at this time of year. Take some tips from her landscape that you can use to make your own landscape attractive in late summer and autumn.

Choose plants that bloom in late summer and early autumn

allium flowers with bees in Western New York
An allium that blooms in late summer attracts bees. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

If you shop for plants only in May, you might grab plants that you see blooming then in the garden center. You walk right by the ones that won’t bloom until autumn.

If you shop in late summer and early autumn, you’re more likely to be attracted to plants that are blooming at this time of year.

Yes, you can buy and plant perennials in autumn!

Autumn is a good time to plant perennials because the heat of summer, which can stress plants, is over. It’s also not as dry now. You still have to make sure you keep newly planted perennials watered in autumn, but that job isn’t as difficult now as it is when it’s hot and dry out.

“From a shopper’s point of view, this is a good time to buy perennials,” said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. “Garden centers have good plants, there may be good deals and the planting conditions are very good.”

In Western New York, you can plant perennials through mid-October, but if you can get them in sooner, that would be better, he said.

anemone September Charm In Amherst NY
It’s easy to guess when this anemone, called ‘September Charm’, blooms. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

If you get the plant in the ground earlier in autumn, the plant has more time to send roots into the surrounding soil, Farfaglia explained. That increases the odds that the plant will make it through the winter. In addition, the plant will start the next growing season with a root system that is larger than it was when you bought the plant.

See our Gardening Directory for stores and garden centers and our Events page for sales.

There is also a plant and seed exchange coming up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29 at University Presbyterian Church, Main Street at Niagara Falls Boulevard, Buffalo. It is sponsored by the Samuel P. Capen Garden Walk.

Tip: After you plant your perennial, water it well throughout the autumn to help it get ready for winter. Mulch around it to protect the roots from fluctuations in temperatures and heaving out of the soil during winter.

It is possible that you can plant perennials even after mid-October. In the past 10 years, we have had autumns that were so mild that you could plant well after mid-October, Farfaglia said, “but you can’t count on it.”

Technically, you can plant as long as the ground isn’t frozen, he said, but if you wait too long, your plant might not make it.

I include all of that information in case you get a plant late in the season, or there is some other reason why you need to evaluate your odds. Still, the rule of thumb is: Plant perennials by mid-October, but sooner if you can.

boneset leaves and flowers
Boneset gets pretty white flowers. Also notice the unusual leaves. Instead of having a leaf on each side the stem, the stem runs right through the middle of a single, wide leaf. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Some of the perennials I saw blooming in Krueger’s garden just after Labor Day were tall sunflowers, crocosmia, Joe-Pye Weed, roses, perennial mums, hibiscus, morning glories and late-blooming allium.

I noticed black-eyed Susans, which are one of my favorite flowers because they are easy to grow and bloom for weeks. They spread well, Krueger noted; you can divide them now and move a clump to a second or third location in your garden.

Toad lilies have small, delicate flowers. You want to look closely at them to see the detailed mottling on the petals. This plant grows well in shade.

Boneset gets pretty white flowers. The name of the plant is interesting. I had heard that the shape of the leaf– a single, unbroken leaf that stretches on both sides of the stem– indicated to herbalists that it would be useful in healing broken bones. Others discount that explanation and say boneset has long been used as a fever reducer and got its name during an epidemic in the 1700s of what was called breakbone fever.

An anemone called ‘September Charm’ gives you a big hint as to when it blooms.

Krueger has common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in her yard, which started as a volunteer. It’s the kind of milkweed you see growing along the road.

“I let the milkweed go,” Krueger said. “It grows where it wants.”

common milkweed
Common milkweed gets interesting pods in late summer, which break open to expose the seeds attached to fluff. Connie Krueger allows this to plant itself in her yard, though be aware that you may find that you get too many common milkweed plants. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

However, it can get out of control, she noted. If you get more than you want, you can pull out the extras.

Gardeners who want to provide food for monarch butterflies and other pollinators often choose other varieties of milkweed that don’t spread as much, such as  swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) or butterfly flower (Asclepias tuberosa). They are interesting in autumn, too.

Asters will be blooming soon in Krueger’s yard. Tip: Krueger said she put her asters in pots because the rabbits eat the poor plants down to the nubbins.

Heuchera can have small, delicate flowers, but the foliage is what gardeners really value. Coleus, an annual, also adds color to the garden with its foliage. Both do well in shady areas.

And don’t forget about vegetables and herbs. The tomatoes were about done when I visited, but herbs were still going strong. Krueger  has been harvesting and drying herbs all summer.

The stripes and various shades of green of the hostas might catch your eye, but look up at the foliage of the redwood tree, too. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Trees and shrubs are plants, too

“Every tree, every shrub, every bush has been planted by yours truly,” Krueger told me.

She has lived in the house for only 11 years, but those many tall trees and shrubs make the landscape seem as if it had been in place for decades.

Trees and shrubs can add more than height and shade to a landscape. Look for interesting foliage, color and texture.

Krueger’s sycamore tree has leaves that can be the size of dinner plates. The bark is interesting; it is shaded in greens and yellows and is beginning to shed.

The tree called Harry Lauder’s walking stick is a contorted filbert. It isn’t doing well, but even if it dies, she will keep it for its interesting, twisting branches.

The branches of a weeping willow cascade over a seating area tucked into the back corner of the yard. That tree was started from a branch snipped off another weeping willow and placed in water until it rooted.

She started an osier (also called basket willow) the same way. It’s happy in its wet spot on top of the former in-ground pool, having grown three stories high in 11 years.

She got a couple of pines for $1.50 each at the end of the season several years ago; they’re now about seven feet tall.

She also saved money by buying many of her trees and shrubs bare root. (When the plant was dormant, it was removed from the soil. Rather than being sold in a pot, the tree or shrub was sold with bare roots.)

pines in garden in Amherst NY
The pines here were purchased for $1.50, but have thrived. Notice the tall sunflowers behind the pines. Artwork can also add interest to your autumn garden. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko


In a week or so, her beautyberry shrub will have get bright fuchsia berries that will last throughout the winter.

There’s a black elderberry that gets great big pink flower clusters earlier in the year and a redwood tree that might grow as tall as they do in California. Other trees and shrubs are a tulip tree, larch and hazel.

What do you think helps to keep a garden interesting in autumn? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


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