For gardeners in most of the world, spring comes but once a year. Here in the Southland, though, a second spring arrives like a gift at the end of summer, bringing an unexpected flush of flowers and spurt of growth on many ornamentals. This second spring also gives us a wedge of time with the best conditions for planting most perennials and cool-weather annuals.
Typically, the second spring sneaks up on us, and once we become aware of its presence, it’s too late to enjoy some of its garden benefits. Making the most of that second spring, which generally starts in about mid-September, means preparing for it in August.
Roses in our warm climate often produce some of their finest flowers in the fall. The Los Angeles Rose Society, one of the largest ARS chapters in the country, stages its yearly show in October to benefit from the impressive specimens that are possible in the fall.
Whether you prepare or not, rose bushes in the fall send out new growth. With a little help, this growth spurt can be harnessed into better and more plentiful blooms that might even win a prize at a rose show.
In August, you should half-prune your rose bushes by removing unproductive small stems and cutting back main stems somewhat. Perhaps pruning is too severe a term for the minor cutting back needed at this time.
“It’s more like grooming, instead of pruning,” says rose expert Luis Desemero. When performing this light pruning, be sure to cut back to a visible bud eye that points in a direction you want the cane to grow. After grooming, fertilize with your favorite rose food.
Fuchsias also produce extraordinary blooms in the fall. As a flower photographer, I’m always looking for perfect blooms, and often I find them in October. As soon as the weather cools, fuchsias seem to grab a second breath and sprint into flower--particularly if they’ve been cut back somewhat in August and fertilized.
This may mean sacrificing a few immediate flowers, but the blossoms produced in October will be much healthier and happier than those in August.
Another way to get ready for our second spring is by planting seeds of cool-weather annuals and some perennials. Improbable as it may seem, August is an excellent time to start many of our favorite flowers. Warm nights ensure germination; and the seedlings are ready for transplanting in early October, in time to make strong top growth before late November, when the growth of most plants slows down.
Some good perennial candidates for August sowing are armeria, alyssum saxatile, carnation, centranthus, columbine, delphinium and penstemon. Last year I tried the Astolat delphinium series.
Although it produced remarkable lavender and lilac-pink shades that were much commented upon by garden visitors, I longed for the familiar indigo blue spires that traditionally reign majestically over the spring garden. Delphiniums, in my mind, should be blue--not pink, and certainly not lime-green, a new color that I saw offered in one seed catalogue.
Among biennials that can be started in August are sweet William, Canterbury bells and the wonderful foxglove Foxy. Most of these so-called biennials act more like annuals in our climate. When transplanted in the fall, they bloom the following spring.
Probably the best plants for August sowing are the cool-weather annuals that we’ll see in nurseries later in the fall. By starting them from seed, you have a much greater selection of varieties and colors.
Choice annuals to grow from seed at this time are alyssum, calendula, dianthus, larkspur, lobelia, nasturtium, nemesia, annual phlox, scarlet salvia, stock, Iceland poppy, viola and pansy.
Fascinated by blue flowers in the garden, I’ve tried many blue pansies and my current preference is Crystal Bowl deep blue. This mid-sized pansy in contrast with the jumbo hybrids, holds its flowers high and blooms steadfastly for months with minimum deadheading. Moreover, its gentian hue, like the ocean off Malibu after a storm has swept the sky clean, must be heaven’s own blue.
For the wildflower garden, order seeds of gilia, California poppy, calliopsis and my favorite, baby snapdragon (linaria). These seeds should be sown directly in the garden a little later in the fall.
A gardening colleague of mine says that seed packets usually provide too much seed for her small garden, so she and a friend place a seed order together and share them.
Start seeds in sterile potting soil in a bright spot. Keep moist until they germinate. Once they develop two sets of true leaves, transplant to flats or directly into the garden. For beginning gardeners, consult the Burpee leaflet “How to Sow Seeds Indoors and Out” (Burpee, Warminster, Pa. 18974, 30 cents). To see the process, order a video “Starting Seeds Indoors” (Park Seed Co., Greenwood, S.C. 29647-0001, $12.95).