By Sean Conway

Fall is upon us, and for most of us this means the gardening season is beginning to wind down. But by no means write off the possibility of beautiful blooms. Fortunately, there are a few plants that wait until fall to look their best -- and without them my garden would look tired at this time of year.

Salvias are some of my favorite fall blooming plants. Barely noticeable all summer long, they spend the hot sunny days of July and August growing taller and blending into the background while other annuals take center stage. Once the days start to shorten and their garden neighbors begin to slow down or give up the ghost altogether, salvias begin to bloom, giving the garden a much needed infusion of color. Producing long sprays of vibrant tubular shaped flowers, their rich saturated colors range from deep wine red to royal purple and indigo blue.

There are dozens of garden-worthy salvias -- including some that bloom during the summer. Three of my favorites for fall color are Salvia vanhouttei, Salvia 'Indigo Spires,' and Salvia 'Purple Majesty.'

Salvia vanhouttei is best grown in a bit of shade where it can have some relief from the hot midday sun. For most of the summer it will look rather unimpressive, growing to a height of 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall with dark green heart-shaped leaves.

Sometime around mid- to late September, this plant goes from being a wallflower to the life of the party, bursting into bloom with long spires of deep red flowers emerging from wine-red bracts. The flowers are produced on the tips of every stem, creating an impressive floral display.

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' is aptly named. As the summer winds down this salvia is just beginning to wind up, attaining a height of 4 feet when grown in full sun and rich garden soil. Producing arching wand-like stems up to 2 feet long and covered in deep indigo blue flowers, Indigo Spires puts on an impressive display right up until frost.

Salvia 'Purple Majesty' starts its show later than the others, seeming to wait until almost all other garden plants have stopped blooming. This salvia spends the summer growing to 3 feet tall before bursting forth with a multitude of royal purple tube-shaped flowers in late September and early October. Hummingbirds love this plant, and in my zone 6b garden it is a valuable source of late-season nectar for these amazing little birds as they make their way south each fall to their winter feeding grounds.

One of the last flowers to bloom in my garden, and usually well after the salvias are done, is a little known chrysanthemum called Sheffield Pink. This hardy mum goes virtually unnoticed in the garden all summer long. Requiring only a sunny location, this carefree perennial will reward you year after year with a spectacular display of soft salmon-pink, daisy-shaped flowers late in the season.

If you find your fall garden lacking color, don't throw in the trowel. Instead plant a few late bloomers like salvias or some perennial chrysanthemums, and extend your gardening season for as long as you can.


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