The September Garden: How To Wind Down On A High Note

My September garden

The end of September can be a tough time for gardens. Leaves lose their deep green luster, stems start to brown and many perennials have simply lost their will to survive. Add to that the fact that the lower the sun gets in the sky, the more dull colors can appear and suddenly, the same flowers that looked so vibrant in summer begin to take on a more muted, less enthusiastic look.

Still, a September garden can hold plenty of attractions with many great plants to choose from. It just takes a little spring planning with an eye towards fall, and you can have a beautiful garden that will provide color and blooms all the way until frost.


When planning your September garden, take a cue from the fall landscape and choose blooms in brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. Even though they’re bright, these colors will look softer under a lower sun. Think dusty reds, golden yellows, tangy oranges and throw in some deep purples to add drama.

One of my garden combos, sedum, coreopsis and cranesbill geranium

And don’t forget pinks. They make a nice transition between all of the other hot colors.

Pink Japanese anenomes

Dried pink blooms of PeeGee hydrangea


There’s no right or wrong when it comes to removing dried seedheads. I leave the elegant forms of thistle, coneflower and rudbeckia to ride out the winter. Seedheads give architecture to the September garden where they pose as sculptures amongst all the fall blooms.

In September, the dried blooms of my coreopsis add color and dimension to my garden


Often at this time of year, things are looking pretty straggly. Aside from pruning things back into bounds, a new layer of mulch can do wonders for a garden. Dark brown mulch acts as a clean backdrop, helping fall tones to ‘pop.’ Plus, the aroma of new mulch always speaks ‘new.’

I’m currently a big fan of mulch made from shredded leaves. I buy it locally from University of Maryland. Not only does it keep neat and hold its color, but it continually feeds and conditions the soil, making for better, longer lasting blooms.


Here are some of the flowers that are still going strong in my September garden. Some of them have only just started to bloom.

Purple lisianthus

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (I cut mine down by half in June so it blooms in September)

Dahlias are the stars of the September garden

Dahlia ‘Aloha’

Roses love the return of cooler weather

Rosa ‘Cardinal Richelieu’

Butterfly Weed

Sweet Autumn Clematis

September planters filled with sweet alyssum and lantana

This re-blooming white iris just reappeared in my garden. The bright white seems a little shocking amongst the other warm colors, so next year I’m switching it out for purple.

White seems a little jarring this time of year

Cranesbill geranium

Smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’

For other great fall planting ideas, click here for last year’s blog post on Maryland’s beautiful Brookside Gardens.

How does your garden grow? Join the discussion and share your ideas for great blooms for September!



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About carole funger

I'm a garden designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?

6 thoughts on “The September Garden: How To Wind Down On A High Note

  1. Another great post, Carole, proving colour can still exist in the garden right until frost hits (for northern gardeners).

    My Toronto zone 5 September garden, composed of mainly small trees and shrubs, is still “on hold” until its autumn foliage goes on display from mid-October to November. Fall stalwarts in my clients’ gardens right now include hardy hibiscus, Japanese anemone, toadlily, leadwort, sneezeweed and Russian sage.

    And of course, the common as nails rudbeckia, sedum, Echinacea….

    • Thank you, Paul! We have the same perennials going in our demo garden with the exception of the toadlily (which I need to add.) I actually planted a small patch of toadlily at one of my client’s homes two years ago. First year it did nothing. Now this year it has formed a huge clump and is out of control. Planning to move it all mid October.

      Another interesting fall bloomer I’ve seen only in two locations here is Lespedeza. Such a beautiful soft purple and grows into an amazing shrub. A great curiosity piece in the garden. Have you seen it in Canada?

  2. I’ve never seen the Lespedeza shrub form around town in my travels but looking at the images for L. thunbergii “Gilbraltar” I will definitely look out for this as a specimen and a fall showcase plant. It’s hardy to zone 4 so no excuse not to try it here. Lord knows, we don’t need another hydrangea or rhodo…

    • Let me know how it goes! One of my clients has a pair of them anchoring either side of a garden. We added caryopteris, spirea, mini limelight hydrangeas,purple verbena Bonarensis Daylilies and plumbago. The plumbago looks AMAZING with the lespedeza.

  3. I will! Thanks for introducing me to Lespedeza.

    Now the challenge is to find it and persuade a client to accept a relatively unknown plant, even in the trade.

    But it has excellent attributes, the species is native, can fix nitrogen and blooms wonderfully in the fall (I researched it!)

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