Fall gardening made easier

Salvias are easy and reliable perennials in the Lowcountry that need no fertilizer and can thrive with little water. Salvias, such as this Coral Nymph, have a longer bloom time with less work.

Making simple plant substitutions in the garden can have significant results.

Choosing native or well-adapted trees, shrubs, vines and grasses can reduce the number of exotic invasive plants bullying their way through the Lowcountry.

Swapping out tired, less desirable plants for healthier, more interesting specimens helps to create a landscape that provides incredible ornamental value and supports native pollinators, birds, and mammals.

Each plant choice brings us closer to a sustainable landscape.

The University of Oregon Master Gardener Handbook introduces the topic of sustainable gardening as the “thoughtful balance between resources used and results gained.”

Seemingly simple actions such as composting, mulching or choosing to not apply pesticides are a few of the things gardeners can do to help establish this balance.

Annuals and perennials are the “icing on the cake” in any landscape. In this final installment of the “Plant this, not that” series, rather than struggle against “Mother Nature,” you can make a few simple changes to decrease the amount of water, fertilizer, pesticides and labor needed to add color and vitality to the garden.

Flowering annuals are attractive and desirable for their color, availability and price. But the need to continually water, fertilize and replace them makes them high maintenance in my book.

You can still use your favorite flowering annuals while reducing work by massing them in containers and focusing on small areas in the landscape for maximum visual impact. These simple steps will ultimately reduce the need to water, deadhead and fertilize larger areas.

Swapping annuals for perennial plantings also will reduce the time you spend tearing out and replanting your garden each year.

In my opinion, no garden is complete without at least one type of salvia. Salvias are easy and reliable perennials in the Lowcountry that need no fertilizer and can thrive with little water.

While many people opt for the smaller annual salvia, try swapping annual red salvia with native perennial Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) in its red form or choose pretty peach ‘Coral Nymph’ for a longer bloom time with less work.

Other favorite salvias include ‘Black and Blue’ Brazilian sage (Salvia guaranitica), which returns reliably each year but can grow to more than 5 feet; autumn sage (Salvia greggii), which comes in several colors including cherry red, forming a mounding 2-3 foot shrub; or Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) which can reach up to 4 feet or taller.

Be sure to allow enough space according to the cultivar.

All of these perennial salvias attract native pollinators and butterflies in masses. Gardeners can expect to see hummingbirds diving in for a sip of the nectar as well. Allowing flowers and foliage to die back with frost and tidying up in the spring when new foliage appears at the base makes salvia a nearly maintenance-free plant.

Flowering cabbages and pansies are popular bedding plants in the fall. Swap these for annual plantings that “work for a living” by incorporating colorful edibles such as leaf lettuces, Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights,’ triple curly parsley or Giant Red mustard.

These edibles look great paired with cheerful violas, which don’t need deadheading like pansies, and snapdragons, and bloom from October to May.

These combinations can provide a visual and tasty treat for the fall garden.

No one can resist the siren song of chrysanthemums in the fall, but don’t rely solely on them to provide fall color.

Swap a few mums for low-maintenance perennials such as Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Tickseed coreopsis, (Coreopsis angustifolia), or Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) to provide late summer to fall flowers while attracting clouds of butterflies.

Looking for ideas on how to create a more sustainable and attractive Lowcountry yard? Visit the Clemson Extension Tri-County Master Gardener’s demonstration garden at the Coastal Carolina Fair from Oct. 25 to Nov. 4.

The “Sustainable Carolina Yard” display will showcase sustainable gardening practices that anyone can adopt.

Household recycling, vertical pallet gardening, raised-bed gardening, composting and “lasagna garden” demonstrations will be highlighted.

Other displays include a rain garden, rain barrel and solar pump. An S.C. Wildlife Federation “Carolina Fence Garden” has been installed that reflects both the cultural and natural heritage of our state. Look for the garden behind the Agricultural Building at the fair.

Join Clemson Extension and Cypress Gardens for The Garden Gathering, a one-day garden-based workshop for garden and nature enthusiasts on Nov. 10.

Focused on nature exploration and gardening, participants may enjoy hands-on workshops led by experts, lunch, free compost, plant shopping and more.

For more information, go to http://bit.ly/TvZo4I.

Amy L. Dabbs is the urban horticulture extension agent and Tri-County Master Gardener coordinator for the Clemson University Cooperative Extension. Send questions to gardening@postandcourier.com