There’s fall color—and fall color


Every day on my way to work, I always look at a certain house, just before I make my final turn. It is the one vibrant spot of color on a block, which, though perfectly nice, is typified by sedate, small front lawns and a few foundation plantings. But these people. These people are gardeners and plant lovers. They start with daffodils and tulips in April/May and continue with perennials and roses throughout the summer. But, interestingly, you don‘t really notice the roses until very late in the season, when they are almost the only plants blooming. The image here shows what they look like at the chilly, rainy end of October, with Halloween 5 days away. (I didn’t get too close because I do not know the homeowners and didn’t want to be lurking around their property. ) I love that the roses are different heights—not just one big planting of Knock-Outs, for instance.

Roses en masse never look that great as a composition; their individual forms show up better in close-up. But still, as November approaches in Western New York, you can’t do much better for a cheerful front yard planting. No mums, no Autumn Joy, no pumpkins—not that there’s anything wrong with those. Just a few remaining perennials and roses, which give me a lot more pleasure than the typical plants of fall.

At home, I still have a few roses coming out. I also have tropicals (above), lots of coleus, and my faithful lobularia; there hasn’t been anything close to a hard frost yet. I’ll be interested to see how late into the season my drive-by roses last.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I agree with you, Elizabeth. At this point, I do still have a few roses (and these look like hybrid teas, so kudos to these folks!), a lot of fall crocus and a few other out of the ordinary plants, and it’s so nice to see. Like you, nothing at all against mums and sedums (I have them and love them), but this makes the end of the season special.

  2. Weird Fall here in coastal southern VA. My large Gardenia bush re-bloomed through most of September. I have a mass of Petunias still going strong after almost 5 months, a volunteer Zinnia just beginning to bloom, and an Azalea covered in white double blooms that look more like little roses. Cannas still going, yellow rose in bloom and a nice dark pink Camellia is now just beginning. There was some frost west of here further from the coast, so I know it won’t last long (except the Camellia), but it is nice to finally have some crisp Fall weather while still keeping the flowers around.

  3. With later frosts, we need gardeners to extend the season for pollinators which are seeing a shocking decline. As a matter of fact, I consider Autumn THE time for gardening. For me, Spring plant care is like caring for the young. Clean up around them a bit, put some food (fertilizer) in front of them and send them outside to play and grow. It pretty much takes care of itself. Trees, shrubs and perennials bloom and leaf for bees and caterpillars. Summer? Give the kids a haircut (prune) and some lemonade (water). In the autumn of their lives (late August through November), they need adult day care. This is when the Nurse/Gardener in us can bloom. Ensure shakes (a bit of liquid fertilizer), surgeries (deadhead), dressing (compost) can keep the plants going well into their “later years.” The children never call? Forget it. Do this and the children (bees, butterflies, moths) will visit every day. They actually need US.

    Fall gardening IS gardening. I say let’s not work so hard in the Spring and we’ll save some energy for the Fall when our assistance is crucial for a declining insect population that needs to fatten up for winter or they will perish before Spring arrives.

    1. Article with some good comments:

    2. My garden in Maryland, this week:

    • I agree with you to a certain extent, Marcia, but in our zone we have to be careful about fertilizing at this time of year and I don’t bother deadheading (there won’t be more blooms with hard frost in the near future) until I cut back the winter-beaten stalks in spring.

  4. True, it’s not the time to fertilize evergreens, but it’s the best time to granular fertilize deciduous trees and shrubs so food is taken up by roots and not leaves. And, liquid fertilizing late blooming, nectar producing perennials and annuals will produce more blooms and more nectar needed now. When temperatures drop, plants produce higher concentrations of sugars and amino acids to resist freezing so the rapid uptake of liquid fertilizer will help them survive the frost and produce more nectar. Also, as with you, I will only continue to deadhead annuals if weather stays warm enough for new growth. And, I see mid-60s during , at least, the first week of November here when the likelihood of a first frost has already passed 70%. The bees are going nowhere yet.


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