Late Fall Garden 2015 – The Last Bloomers

Cape May, NJ – All year long, a patch of scraggly green shoots seem to beg for some serious weeding. Why hasn’t someone taken a hoe to this spot, a visitor has to wonder.

Then, come late October, when all the summer darlings are fading for the year, that scraggly patch goes through a metamorphosis, turning into a tall, striking bed of glowing Tatarian Asters. They have a jaunty air about them, almost saying – see we told you so.

Yes they did. And only a major frost will stop those purple flowers.

Cape May gardeners are lucky. We have the weather on our side.  The spring may feel a little soggy and start later than we’d like, but come the fall, if we pick our plants right, we can have perennial blooms until November.

While other asters have faded, our Tatarian Asters are still in bloom right now.

So are the Salvia Greggii and Salvia Microphylla, with their dainty pink and red blossoms. (They like to play together. It’s often hard to tell them apart.) During the summer and early fall, these shrubby little salvias feed countless numbers of hummingbirds in our garden.

By November, the hummers are gone, but the Salvia blossoms still perfume the air with a sweet, clove scent. Like the Tatarian Asters, they’re in it for the long haul. They’re called Autumn Sage for a good reason.

Another fall favorite found growing next to mailboxes and front doors across Cape Island is Montauk Daisy.   Makes sense that a perennial found all over Montauk, Long Island would do just as well in another seashore community.

The foliage of these tough daisies looks like a miniature shrub during the summer and early fall. Then, suddenly, one day in October, that little mound of green will burst into a Shasta Daisy look-a-like.  Even though they supposedly are “drought tolerant” these guys do like their water.  Without sufficient H2O, those nice green leaves shrivel up in the dog days of August.

Not so with our all time favorite – Indigo Spires Sage.

This boy has it all – good looks, drought tolerance and a long blooming, heavy flower display that brings in all manner of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. This Salvia will keep going strong right up to winter’s doorstep.

So, what’s the catch?

Well, although Indigo Spires is a perennial that comes back every year, our friends at Fine Gardening magazine say diplomatically that the plant benefits from “winter protection” in Zone 7.  Translation: sometimes Indigo Spires makes it through the winter and sometimes it does not.

If we have a tough winter, we just replant in the spring. Can’t disappoint all those butterflies and hummingbirds.

Same with another fall blooming Monarch favorite, the butterfly bush.

If you’re the neat sort, you deadhead the bushes throughout the summer, which brings in strong flushes of new flowers in the fall.

If you are like us, you will snip off the dead flowers once or twice, then move on to other, more interesting parts of your life.
Lucky for us, our 15 year old butterfly bush knows our habits and did some regenerating on its own this year.

Although this plant has fallen out of favor recently, we like having a little nectar on hand for those tardy Monarchs fluttering through our early November garden.


And the truth of the matter – the longer we can extend our fall flowering season, the shorter the time until those first daffodils arrive.

Read more from our Cape May Garden Journal


About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak - a journalist, gardener and Cape Island resident - is writing a book.