Being a somewhat impulsive gardener, I usually wait until spring to decide what new plants I want to add to my wildlife garden.
This year, however, I hope to take advantage of the fall planting season to add a few pollinator-friendly perennials.
To find out what my options might be, I talked with Blair Durant of Niche Gardens, a nursery near Chapel Hill that specializes in native perennials
According to Durant, fall is a great time to install these plants as long as I choose species that are hardy enough to withstand the coldest temperatures experienced November through March in the Piedmont. Our climate zone is listed as 7, or sometimes 7B, with temperatures dropping no lower than 10 degrees, at least for a sustained periods. Plants rated as hardy for Zone 8 or or higher are better suited for warmer climes and will do fine in summers here, but are not likely to make it through their first North Carolina winter —especially if planted in the weeks before temperatures plunge.
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Durant, in fact, advises gardeners to aim for even more winter-hardy plants for fall installation because that first year, as perennials are becoming established, they are more vulnerable to stress from frigid temperatures, as well as excessively hot, dry or wet conditions.
Fall planting means a better chance to make it through the following hot summer, but only if they first survive winter’s cold snaps, he said.
“You should be cautious with anything that is hardy only to Zone 7,” Durant advised. “Plants from further south, like salvias, you wouldn’t want to start in the fall because they won’t have enough time to establish roots before winter.”
A visit to Niche Gardens proves there’s still a quite good selection for fall planting in the Piedmont.
It was my first trip to the retail and wholesale garden center, but it won’t be my last.
What I really liked about the nursery was the generous amount of information provided on each species, so I didn’t have to look hard or even guess about what I was getting. Each plant is marked with a sign indicating its hardiness zones, region of origin, need for rich, wet or dry soil, as well as whether it serves to attract birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, etc.
Heat- and drought-tolerant plants are grouped together, as are plants that like full sun and those that thrive in shade.
Although a wide variety of trees and shrubs do well with fall planting, I was more interested in smaller plants, so Durant suggested goldenrod (Solidago), asters (Symphyotrichum), coneflowers (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia).
A display of goldenrod buzzing with bees and butterflies was the first thing I was attracted to at the garden center, but I hesitated. I’d heard goldenrod could cause allergies, something I don’t need any more of in the spring.
Turns out, that is a myth, one of the nursery workers explained. Although similar in appearance, the fall-blooming ragweed (scientific name Ambrosia) is the allergen in most cases. The two plants have yellow flowers, enjoy similar growing conditions and bloom about the same time in early fall. But goldenrod is typically a brighter yellow color and the leaves are oblong — not spiky like ragweed. Ragweed pollen is so tiny that it can be sown by the wind, and so it does not attract bees and butterflies to aid in pollination. Goldenrod has larger pollen (unlikely to be inhaled by humans) and is beloved by various types of pollinators.
As one of nature’s later-blooming plants, goldenrod has the added benefit of providing food for butterflies and bees well into fall.
I added some of the plants to my basket, along with a few other species, including the pink turtlehead (Chelone Iyonine) “Hot Lips,” which is hardy in Zones 3 through 9 — but chosen mainly because I couldn’t resist the name.
With slightly cooler temperatures in our area this month, the temptation to jump-start my garden for next year is growing — especially now that I understand some of the rules about fall planting.
There are a number of good nurseries offering native plants throughout our region, and I plan to explore more of them over the next couple of months with hopes of attracting additional pollinators to my yard next spring, summer and fall.
Reach Elder at email@example.com
Upcoming Plant Sales and Giveaways
▪ Raleigh’s JC Raulston Arboretum is hosting its Friends of the Arboretum Annual Plant Distribution 9 a.m.-9:15 a.m. Oct. 1. This is not a sale. The arboretum gives away thousands of plants, including rare ones, for free. It is open only to members.
The plants up for grabs are set out in a field. At 9 a.m. sharp, everyone lines up near the plants they hope to take home, a horn blares and everyone dashes to grab a couple of plants. The procedure repeats several more times until all the plants are gone. Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m.
Individual membership costs $50 and gets one person into the plant distribution. Family memberships cost $75 and offer two admissions. People can sign up for memberships on the day of the plant distribution.
The arboretum is at 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, 919-515-3132, jcra.ncsu.edu.
▪ Durham’s Sarah P. Duke Gardens’s plant sale is open to the public 8 a.m.-noon Sept. 24. The Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St., Durham, 919-684-3698, http://gardens.duke.edu.
▪ Chapel Hill’s N.C. Botanical Garden is hosting its annual fall plant sale and festival from 9 a.m.-noon Sept. 24. Members receive a 10 percent discount. The garden is at 100 Old Mason Farm Road, Chapel Hill, 919-962-0522, ncbg.unc.edu.
▪ The N.C. State University Chapter of Pi Alpha Zi Plant Sale is 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 24 and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 25. at N.C. Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh. Info: https://pialphaxi.wordpress.ncsu.edu/.
▪ The Cumberland County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Association Fall Plant Sale is 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 24 at 301 E. Mountain Drive, Fayetteville.
▪ UNC-Charlotte Botanical Gardens Plant Sale is 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 14-15 at UNC Charlotte, Student Union Building, Room 340, Charlotte. Info: gardens.uncc.edu.
Andrea Weigl and Renee Elder