To ensure fall colors, add the flowering Autumn Joy to your perennial garden | Home-garden

One of the joys of fall is Autumn Joy. huh?

The fall joy I speak of is a mainstay in our perennial garden. Although it is commonly referred to as Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, there has been much confusion as to its official botanical name. The most current botanical name I could find is Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’…that’s a mouthful. Still, it’s a delight to have in the garden, especially now that so many of the summer-blooming flowers of other perennial species are quickly wilting. Autumn Joy bloomed in full bloom in August with pale pink flowers. Now these flowers are gradually taking on a deeper hue approaching red. Later this fall, the dried buds left on the plant will appear rust colored and still attractive.

After months of working in the vegetable garden, take a moment to notice the flowers you've grown

The persistence of blooms well into fall is just one of the physical traits home gardeners should be attracted to. Autumn Joy’s leaves are gray-green and resemble those of many succulents. As such, it offers interest throughout the growing season, even well before its flowers appear.

As far as maintenance goes, Autumn Joy is best described as low maintenance. Some might say it thrives on neglect. Our plants are in a sunny spot with gritty soil where many other plants would probably struggle. This proved to be an important factor given last summer’s ongoing drought. Autumn Joy was unimpressed and healthy looking during this time. That’s not to say it would struggle on rainy tracks. As long as the soil is well drained it will be fine. Another low-maintenance feature is the lack of pest problems. In the many years and different places we have grown Autumn Joy I can’t recall any problems with pests or diseases. The only care required is cutting back the dead stems to ground level in spring before new shoots appear.

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Oh, such joy!

It will be so much more fun if you go out in the garden and do these chores:

  • Pay attention to weather forecasts. While I don’t currently see any predictions for frost in the near future, we are in a time of year when frost may occur. If so, harvest tender vegetables, even green tomatoes. Green tomatoes can be used to make fried green tomatoes, salsa, pickled green tomatoes, and other savory dishes.
  • Immediately remove the vegetable plants that are no longer producing their fruit and sow seeds of a catch crop such as winter rye in the vacated areas. The pest- and disease-free vegetables can be thrown onto the compost heap or buried in a ditch dug in the garden. This trench composting method is also a great way to dispose of kitchen waste, as long as it’s plant matter.
  • Continue weeding around vegetables left in the garden and around plants in flower beds. Ignoring weeds will not make them go away. Most weed plants set seed now and just one omission can mean thousands more in your future. That sounds like a message found in a fortune cookie.
  • Take sweet basil cuttings to start plants that you can overwinter on a windowsill. A 4 to 6 inch cutting will root in moist sand in about 4 weeks. You could grow some plants from seed, but rooted cuttings yield larger plants more quickly.
  • Take advantage of ideal weather conditions by planting fruit trees and shrubs. As a precaution against voles and rodents that might chew on the bark of a newly planted tree, wrap the trunk of the tree in some type of wire mesh. Bury the base of the wire cylinder a few inches underground. Also, the wire cylinder should be about 2 feet tall.
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Fortunately, I’ve run out of space to list other joyful chores.


Thanks to the reader who brought my attention to an article I wrote in early September in the September 3rd Garden Journal on fertilizing lawns. I mentioned using a fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, all of which are essential nutrients for plant growth. However, the reader pointed out that applying phosphorus fertilizers to lawns in Massachusetts is now illegal. I was unaware of this regulation and contacted a former colleague at UMass Extension who is currently the director of the Turf Management Program for an update. He explained that “Government regulations prohibit the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus (P) unless at least one of two conditions is met: 1. a recent soil test indicates P deficiency and/or 2. it finds a replanting rather than establishment, overseeding, or repairs.” He also said it would be difficult to find lawn fertilizers containing P in Massachusetts. Interestingly, these regulations only apply to lawns and not to the fertilization of shade trees, ornamental plants or gardens. For more information, visit:

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