Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.

Sedum Autumn Joy.JPG

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' adds some late color to the perennial border.

One of the joys of autumn is Autumn Joy. Huh?

The Autumn Joy of which I speak is a mainstay in our perennial garden. Though 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. Nevertheless, it is a joy to have in the garden, especially now that so many of the summer-blooming flowers of other perennial species are rapidly fading away. Autumn Joy came into full bloom in August with pale pink flowers. Now, those flowers are gradually taking on a deeper shade approaching red. Later this fall, the dried blossoms which are retained on the plant will appear rust-colored and still attractive.

The persistence of flowers well into fall is just of the physical features that should attract home gardeners. The leaves of Autumn Joy are gray-green and similar to that of many succulents. As such, it provides interest throughout the growing season, including well before the appearance of its flowers.

As far as the maintenance of Autumn Joy is concerned, it is best described as low maintenance. Some might say that it thrives on neglect. Our plants are located in a sunny location with gravelly soil where many other plants would likely struggle. This proved to be an important factor, given the prolonged drought this past summer. Autumn Joy was unfazed and looked healthy throughout that period. That is not to say that it would struggle during rainy stretches. As long as the soil is well drained, it will be fine. Another low-maintenance feature is the lack of pest problems. Over the many years and in different locations where we grew Autumn Joy, I cannot recall any pest or disease issues. About the only maintenance required is the cutting back of the dead stems to ground level in spring before new shoots appear.

Oh, such joy!

There’ll be so much more joy when you head out to the garden and embrace these tasks:

  • Pay attention to weather forecasts. Though I currently do not see any predictions of frost in the near future, we are at a time of year when frost can 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 tasty dishes.
  • Promptly remove those vegetable plants that are no longer yielding their bounty and sow seeds of a cover crop such as winter rye in the vacated spaces. Those vegetable plants that are pest and disease-free can be tossed onto the compost pile or buried in a trench dug in the garden. This trench composting method is also a good way to dispose of kitchen scraps, as long as they are plant materials.
  • Continue weeding around vegetables remaining in the garden, as well as around plants in flower borders. Ignoring weeds won’t make them go away. Most weed plants are now setting seed and letting just one go can mean thousands more in your future. That sounds like a message you’d find in a fortune cookie.
  • Take cuttings of sweet basil to start plants to carry through the winter on a windowsill. A 4 to 6-inch cutting will root in moist sand in about 4 weeks. You could start some plants from seed but rooted cuttings will give larger plants more quickly.
  • Take advantage of ideal weather conditions by planting fruit trees and bushes. As a precaution against voles and rodents that may gnaw on the bark of a newly planted tree, wrap the trunk of the tree with wire mesh of some sort. Bury the base of the wire cylinder a few inches below ground. Also, the wire cylinder should be about 2 feet high.

Joyfully, I’ve run out of space to list other joyful tasks.

AVOID PHOSPHORUS FERTILIZERS

Thanks to the reader who called my attention to an item I wrote in the Sept. 3 Garden Journal regarding fertilizing lawns in early September. I had mentioned applying a fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all of which are essential nutrients for plant growth. However, the reader pointed out that the application of fertilizers containing phosphorus to lawns is now prohibited in Massachusetts. I was unaware of this regulation and contacted a former colleague at UMass Extension who is currently head of the Turf Management Program for an update. He stated that “Statewide regulations prohibit the use of phosphorus (P)-containing fertilizers unless at least one of two conditions is met: 1. a current soil test indicates P deficiency, and/or 2. planting is occurring, that is, new establishment, overseeding, or repairs.” He also said that it is would be difficult to find lawn fertilizers containing P in Massachusetts. Interestingly, these regulations only apply to lawns, and not fertilization of shade trees, ornamentals or gardens. For more information go to: mass.gov/service-details/plant-nutrient-management