Exciting Plants for the Fall Season

Article written for www.patch.com   

This month I want to talk about two very exciting plants. One I have been monitoring at our garden center since April and the other is a fantastic plant year round… especially in the autumn.

Magnolia ‘March til Frost’ has been performing admirably since April when we received it. A deciduous magnolia that has an upright branching habit, ‘March til Frost’s’’ seedpods are held vertically, like candles, and its flowers never really completely open. The fact that the flowers never fully open is inconsequential when you consider that this tree really does continue to flower, as its name suggests, from ‘March til Frost’. This magnolia produces violet-lavender to darker purple flowers consistently throughout the season. A cross between Magnolia (liliiflora and cylindrical) x ‘Ruby’, ‘March til Frost’ was brought to us by Dr. August Kehr. Dr. Kehr (Augie) was a giant in the plant world. A published plant researcher, Kehr taught at Louisiana State University and Iowa State University. Later, Dr. Kehr went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Agriculture Research Service as a scientist and administrator. His passion was trying to hybridize yellow magnolias and yellow evergreen azaleas. ‘March til Frost’ can withstand temperatures of -15 degrees and is expected to reach a comfortable height of 20 to 30 feet tall and almost as wide. Plant this tree in full sun to part shade. Combing the Internet, I found people growing this tree successfully from Florida to Pennsylvania. I was particularly enamored, this year, by the large, heavily textured leaves of this tree too.

Black Mondo Grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ is, for my money, the quintessential Halloween plant! Jet-black, narrow strap-like foliage looks dynamite in a planter filled with pumpkins. Aside from the holiday scene Black Mondo Grass can offer, it is even a more useful landscape plant. Just 6 inches high; this versatile groundcover thrives in morning sun, afternoon shade and even full shade. To this day the very best display of Black Mondo Grass I have ever seen was on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. A public garden with international notoriety, this land was once a former estate home. The reflection pool, Japanese garden and, of course, the Black Mondo Grass are what I remember most and took away visually. Most groundcovers have been referred to as “living mulches”. This is no exception! Imagine a dense, soil cover in black that can help keep weeds at bay, stabilize soil and provide a sort of cohesion, tying in other plants in your landscape. Mondo Grass spreads by underground stems but is quite controllable. Expect pale pink flowers suspended above and within the black foliage at the end of spring and black clusters of small, round fruit, again suspended over its foliage in the later part of autumn and into the beginning of winter. “Black Monkey Grass” as it is also commonly called pairs itself well with the dark greens in your landscape. Wherever you use this versatile plant, rest assured you will have most onlookers gawking with excitement.

These two plants have impressed me for some time. Many times deciduous magnolias are hit by a late frost, thus sacrificing all those beautiful tulip and star shaped flowers. ‘March til Frost’ gives you the opportunity to enjoy a magnolia flower for months on end. Black Mondo Grass gives you a color seldom seen in most landscapes. Both plants are durable, are sure to spice up any garden, all the while having your friends asking what are they?