There’s more to autumn gardening than sprucing up an otherwise withering flower bed or border with a few chrysanthemums.
Many gardeners, thinking the growing season ends come Labor Day, abandon colorful, fragrant blooms for traditional autumn decorations such as pumpkins, hay bales and corn stalks, said Nancy Leskody, co-owner of Trimble’s of Corchaug Nursery on Main Road in Cutchogue.
It’s a habit that dates back to the colonial era, when early American settlers planted in the spring to take advantage of the rain and harvested crops in September.
But a wealth of flowers — including Montauk daisies, asters and sedum autumn joy — bloom bright and big this month. In addition, gardeners say usually deer-resistant ornamental grasses and trees can go a long way toward beautifying a landscape as the season changes.
Trimble’s co-owner Anne Trimble suggests planting Swiss chard, cabbage, kale and other leafy vegetables to enhance a fall garden.
“It’s all about texture,” she said.
The fall is also a good time to plant trees other than beech and oak, said Jim Warner of Warner’s Nursery & Garden Shop, a 500-acre farm in Calverton. Tree tops give a final colorful show and but the roots are expanding, he said.
One of Mr. Warner’s favorite fall trees is the autumn flowering cherry, which has small, light-pink blooms that turn an orangey-red as the season progresses. The trees can grow as high as 18 to 20 feet tall, which is still small for a tree, Mr. Warner said.
Flowering pears, Japanese maples and lindens have bold fall colors ranging from garnet to reddish mahogany, he added. Japanese maples are on the smaller side, only about six to eight feet high, but are 10 to 12 feet wide. Lindens, a big shade tree, grow as high as 45 feet.
Mature tree size comes into play when envisioning and planting a garden.
“You have to think about what shape it’s going to get, and place it accordingly,” Mr. Warner said.
Marilyn Anne Marks, a landscape designer who owns the Shorecrest Bed & Breakfast in Southold, maintains a 20-foot by 200-foot garden at her inn, plus additional shade gardens and other flower beds. Tending the gardens is a chore during the summer, but keeps the property lush and colorful into the fall.
“It’s designed to bloom at any given point of the year,” Ms. Marks said.
Montauk daisies, goldenrod and rudbeckia, all perennials, are reaching full bloom right about now, she said.
Relying on such long-lasting flowers is one of her tricks of the trade. They come back year after year, helping her garden, built in 2006, require less maintenance. She also intersperses the perennials with annuals that flower until the fall’s first frost.
“I have giant verbena, and a lot of container plantings,” she said, adding that she also uses jasmine and passion vine.
To add more low-maintenance interest to her garden, Ms. Marks breaks with tradition. Rather than focusing on flowers, she adds visual interest with seed heads and dried hydrangea on the branch. When she took ownership of Shorecrest, one of the only flowers in the garden was a huge hydrangea that had been there since the 1920s.
“They start out bright blue, with giant pompon heads, almost as big as a soccer ball,” Ms. Marks said. “Then they fade to a paler color, with pink tinges, and some will go greenish or a deep pink.”
She also incorporates hydrangea paniculata, which is more treelike than its cousin, in her garden. It’s just starting to bloom, she said.
Tall, spiky agastache, a perennial herb, also blooms in the fall and adds depth and color to the back of a fall flower bed, said Alexandra Andon, a landscape designer at Timothy Coffey Landscape Contractors in Southold. The herb can grow almost five feet tall.
“It has an interesting lemony-scented leaf,” she said, adding that she’s also noticed Japanese anemones are underused in fall gardens. The anemones can be staked to grow tall or left to trail along the ground.
Ms. Andon also recommends colchicum, an autumn bulb that grows to only a few inches tall.
The fall can also be a time to prepare for winter landscapes. Ms. Trimble recommends a red twig dogwood, green and white during the growing season with bright red stems in the winter. It looks “spectacular in a snowstorm,” she said.
“The challenge is to realize that you can still plant,” Ms. Leskody said. “The sun is warm, and the ground is warm, and there’s a long growing season here.”