By Sean Conway
The colors of autumn are more often associated with falling leaves than they are with colorful blooms. Yet while most plants are slowing down their growth, or even going dormant, a few noteworthy exceptions buck that trend by bursting into bloom.
Many fall-blooming plants are triggered into flower when days shorten and temperatures begin to cool. A perfect example is the beautiful, single-flowered Camellia sinensis.
This small-leaved camellia is widely cultivated in cooler regions of the Far East, where its tender new leaves are harvested to make tea. White tea, green tea, oolong tea and black tea are all made from Camellia sinensis. The differences lie in how the leaves are processed after picking, and the degree of fermentation and oxidation they undergo.
For avid tea drinkers, the leaves of Camelia sinensis may be reason enough to grow this carefree container plant, but for me, the plant's 4- to 5-inch fragrant white blooms with bright yellow centers are a better reason.
My small tree spends the spring and summer months happily growing in cool shade on the north side of my barn. It requires nothing more than regular watering and occasional fertilizing, and its small, dark green leaves are not bothered by pests.
A light pruning in the early spring keeps its growth compact and ensures an abundance of new flowers later in the season. When the first buds show signs of opening, my potted camellia gets relocated next to the front door of our home, where family and friends can enjoy its cheery flowers and wonderful scent for several weeks on end.
Once temperatures drop below freezing, I move it into a cool but sunny room for the winter. I keep it moist but not wet until the following spring, when it goes outside again.
If you're looking for a splash of fall color but don't have the space for a small potted tree, you might consider growing a few perennial chrysanthemums in your garden.
I am not referring to the pots of mums offered for sale at garden centers and grocery stores around the time football season starts. These so-called "hardy mums" sold in large pots each fall could in fact overwinter in your garden if established early enough in the season. However, these mums arrive on the market so late in the growing season that planting them in mid-fall doesn't allow a viable root system to establish before winter sets in.
What I'm referring to are any of the several "old fashioned" varieties of mums that are sold as perennials in the spring at independent garden centers or online. When planted early and in full sun, some of these fall bloomers are hardy to zones 4 or 5.
One of my favorites in this category is chrysanthemum 'Rhumba' with its abundant crop of coppery-coral flowers with bright yellow centers. I added this fantastic plant to my garden at the suggestion of my friend Kathy Tracey, proprietor of Avant Gardens in Dartmouth, Mass. (avantgardensne.com). This nursery is known for it's out-of-the-ordinary assortment of plants, and a suggestion from Kathy is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Avant Gardens has several varieties of hardy chrysanthemums to choose from, and based on Rhumba's performance, I know I'll be ordering others next spring.
As is the case with my camellia, the short days and cool temperatures of autumn trigger these hardy chrysanthemums into putting on a floral show.
While most of my garden is getting ready for bed, growing a few plants that want to keep the party going helps the garden stay interesting all year long.
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Home & Garden - Late-Blooming Camellias and Chrysanthemums Keep Colors of Autumn Interesting