Showcasing September Plants

Lagerstroemia ‘Tonto’. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

September can be a frustrating month in the garden as it transitions from a summer garden to a fall one. Consequently, many of us don’t have much in bloom – and what we do have exhibits summer exhaustion. A lone Echinacea bloom somehow doesn’t cut it.

The peony plants have died back, clearly wishing for the cold weather. The crinums have finished blooming, the lilies are long gone and even the long-lasting coreopsis is no longer in bloom. All this makes me appreciate the few September flowers that appear in my garden. The asters and hardy chrysanthemums have yet to appear.

Surprisingly, my ‘Tonto’ crapemyrtles are still in bloom, cheering up my backyard. ‘Tonto’ is one of the later crapemyrtles to come into bloom and it rewards me in August and September, a period when I need flowers.

All this is said because it’s so important to know the blooming times of plants before you purchase them. Those crapemyrtles that begin to flower in June, finishing up in early August do not meet my requirements for maximum flower time. After all, decorating the garden in June and July is not difficult; finding something that happily blooms in late August and September is much harder.

Begonia grandis ‘Heron’s Pirouette’. Photo by Kit Flynn.

Every month I mention Begonia grandis with good reason. In July and August, I always admire these small flowers – and then September arrives to wow me with their profusion. If it is to make a statement, this plant depends upon numbers. Plant three and soon you will have many as this is a prolific seeder. Why don’t I consider it invasive? I certainly have made my deep distrust of heavy seeders known. In the first place, this plant doesn’t crowd all other plants out; in the second place, it is very easy and painless to pull out the unwanted clumps.

For rose lovers, September is a lovely month. That July feeding pays off this month when the nights have begun to cool down. You will never find the profusion of roses that hits the garden in May and June but after surviving the rugged months of July and August, these flowers are so welcome when they return.

The lavender, ‘Phenomenal’, looks wonderful right now. Not only does the grey-blue offer a lovely highlight in the garden, this particular cultivar smells so divine. I love it when it’s in flower in the late spring, but I appreciate it even more in September. I can well remember those days when lavender was hard for us to grow; English lavender didn’t appreciate our climatic conditions while the French and Spanish lavenders didn’t quite fit the bill. With the introduction of ‘Phenomenal’, I became a happy camper.

Each year I begin wondering when will my fall camellias begin blooming. The first ones for me are my two Camellia x ‘Snow Flurry’, a hybrid resulting from the mating of C. oleifera and C. x ‘Frost Princess’ (yes, gardeners like to know these things). The first flower arrived in the middle of this month, telling me that fall really is approaching. Fifteen years ago, we planted two side-by-side before moving one to anchor the other side of the walkway. Both have the same exposure but the original one is always two weeks ahead of the transplanted one. As it was moved over ten years ago, transplant shock is no longer in question. Why it blooms later is anyone’s guess.

What I especially relish about the September garden is the visual relaxation I see when I step outdoors. Rain might not yet be as plentiful as I’d like (are we ever satisfied with the amount of rain we receive?) but there’s a feeling among the plants that they will now survive.

The dahlias are now happy – and a happy dahlia delights me. However, the September garden also makes me appreciate the non-flowering plants even more. The Aspidistra (aka Cast Iron plant) is perky while the ferns are even more cheerful (okay, this might be anthropomorphizing ferns but I ask you: Cannot ferns be cheerful?).

Confession: The Latin names of ferns defeat me. I can handle Athyrium – and fortunately, many nice ferns belong to this genus – but I flunk regarding Thelypteris and Cyrtomium. Pleopeltis lepidopteris fails as a name to register in my elderly consciousness. At an age when names are no longer my strong suit, I find I have to be humble when it comes to the genus names of ferns. Surely, I’m not the only one who flunks when it comes to identifying ferns.

The sun has changed so that my south-facing front yard is no longer bathed in sunlight as the sun is lower in the sky. Consequently, some of the plants depending on bright sunlight are finishing up their growing cycle. Amarcrinums that have bloomed steadily for me for the past ten years are not quite as productive as they once were because their area now casts more shade. This happens in maturing gardens.

My advice in recommending the September garden is this: September is a transition month. Enjoy the cooler temperatures and be grateful that your plants have survived the heat and humidity of July and August.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at
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