The heat index may still be sizzling but Fall – and chillier temperatures – are just around the corner.
You can segue seamlessly from one season to the next by melding colors, blooms, plants and grasses and, even, butterflies, from summer and enjoying their beauty deep into autumn.
Here’s a few suggestions.
The Monarch butterfly, known for its iconic and distinctively patterned wings, is a treasured presence in our region. After they emerge from their cocoons, the butterflies tend to linger in this area until the first hint of colder weather hastens their migration to warmer climes further south in Mexico, Florida and Cuba.
While they are here, ensure they linger where you can admire them by planting milkweed — which is the only thing Monarch butterfly larvae will eat — or flowering perennials that will brighten up your yard, among them Hyssop, Butterfly Weed, Jo-Pye Weed, Asters, purple Coneflower and Turtleheads. Monarchs use their straw-like Proboscis to suck nectar from these flowering plants.
Add some color to your doorway. Place live potted maples near your front entry — their leafs turn a glorious red in the fall. Around them, arrange gourds, squash and pumpkins large and small — not every pumpkin has to be carved. Left uncarved, they can later be cut up, baked and their puree used to make soups, muffins and more.
Place potted Celosia near the door. The bright fuchsia color brightens up the gloomiest day and combined with orange mums provides a pop of color and extends summery colors well into the months ending in “R”.
Another surprise comes from the use of a small vegetable — hot little peppers — planted in pots alongside more traditional herbs, grasses and flowering plants for that unexpected jolt of spicy hot color.
While the weather remains warm — or warm enough with a light jacket — place flicker lights and a fire table on the rear patio. Some fire tables now come with built-in ice buckets to chill wine, champagne or beer while you are enjoying the outdoors.
Add a splash of color with some bright mums or the fast-selling potted Sunfinity sunflowers that have multiple blooms of sunflowers on the same stem.
Introduced earlier this year, this new sunflower variety has been a hit all over the country and sold out in many areas. You can be sure it will be back next year.
Other varieties of sunflowers are available in many flower shops and green grocers. Plus, craft shops, like Michaels and Joann Fabrics and Crafts, will have look-alike faux versions.
Want to dress up the front door? Consider making a door wreath out of “findings” from your yard. The wreath can be dual-purposed as a decorative ring around a lamp or pillar candle.
Purchase a round wire wreath frame, gather some freshly fallen oak leaves, thread a needle with about four feet of heavy thread and string the leaves together in a garland. Attach them with hemp twine to the wire frame. Swing the stems gently to the outer edge of the wreath.
Use a wide ribbon — burlap, satin or metallic — to accent the wreath and form a loop to hang it on the door.
Or, wrap burlap ribbon over a Styrofoam wreath. Head out into the yard to find acorns, buckeyes and pine cones. To keep bugs away, place the acorns and buckeyes in a 200 degree oven for 90 to 120 minutes. The pine cones only need to be in the oven the final 30 minutes.
Use a hot glue gun to attach your finds to the wreath. Gather enough to cover the entire surface. Then, attach a ribbon and string your artwork up on the door.
But, place it where a curious squirrel or bird cannot get to it.
This is a good time, according to Heather Wheatley, sales manager at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, to set seed for ornamental grasses that grow to a height of 12 to 36 inches. They can be planted out in the yard or in containers.
“Pennisteum Rubrum is red. It starts growing in the summer and has fall colors,” Wheatley said. “Little Bunny Fountain grass has a fall display of seed heads. When it is frosted in late autumn, it is sparkly and glowing. The bold romantic look of grasses in the fall is so beautiful.”
She noted Schizachyrium Scoparium, also known as “Little Blue Stem” begins its growth dressed in blue, but when the weather cools it segues into a carnival of colors. In the wintertime, it doubles as a small animal habitat. The plant is also beneficial for insects in the warmer months. “They’re attractive for a very long season and look great in the fall,” Wheatley said.
Another plant that changes its colors in spectacular fashion is the Amsonia Hubrichtii or “Threadleaf Blue Star.” Native to this region, it starts out green and turns to amber yellow in autumn months.
Yet another ornamental grass, for the lowest level of the garden, is Carex, a beautiful evergreen plant. There are more than 18 varieties of Carex, some with names like “Beatlemania” and “Kiwi” that grow well even in the shade.
She noted, the autumn months are the ideal time to plant trees and shrubs. After planting, they are dormant in the winter. When spring returns, they “wake up” in place, ready and blooming. “They don’t require the maintenance of something planted in the spring,” Wheatley said.
Early in autumn, before the first frost arrives, it is time to prepare your lawn for the colder months ahead.
Walk the yard and remove weeds. Aerate the soil. Put grass seed on the bald spots in the yard and place leaves in the garden as mulch. Afterward, as a final cover, lay down a fertilizer.
“Put a lawn where you are going to use it,” Wheatley said.
Otherwise, consider planting a good ground cover that also suppresses weeds like Ajuga Reptans, commonly called bugleweed. A spreading,dense ground cover it has dark green leaves with purple highlights. In the spring, dozens of purple flowers bloom on each of its tall stalks.
Other low-maintenance ground cover plants that are lush, green and save you from pushing a lawn mower are Creeping Juniper and Sedum.