Q: A lot of my new native plant garden beds contain species that bloom in spring and early/mid-summer. What can I add for pollinators that blooms late?
A: Fortunately, there are numerous late-season nectar sources, though most are sun-loving species. They are very attractive to migrating monarchs and any other butterfly on the wing in late summer and autumn, plus bees, wasps, beetles, flies, and plenty of other insects. Seed-eating birds also appreciate the food source once the seeds of those plants ripen by the end of the growing season; nature’s bird feeders.
Lots of late-flowering native plants are in the aster family, including: ironweed (vernonia); goldenrods (Solidago and Euthamia); asters (formerly genus aster, now named doellingeria, eurybia, Ionactis, or symphyotrichum); cut-leaved coneflower (rudbeckia laciniata); blazing-star (liatris); elephant’s-foot (elephantopus); beggarticks (bidens); wingstem (verbesina); Helen’s flower (helenium); perennial sunflowers (helianthus); climbing hempvine (mikania scandens); and the Eupatorium group (several common names and genera; eupatorium, eutrochium, conoclinium, ageratina).
Outside of the aster family, you can also consider rosemallow (hibiscus), obedient plant (physostegia virginiana), turtlehead (chelone), common witchhazel (hamamelis virginiana), gentian (gentiana), tall phlox (phlox paniculata), lobelia (lobelia), and flowering spurge (euphorbia corollata).
Q: I recently moved into the area and have a small lawn for the first time. I’ve heard this is prime lawn care season, yes? What in particular is done in autumn?
A: Most lawn care tasks are performed in early autumn because that’s when cool-season turf grass (the predominant type grown in Maryland) resumes growth after a summer dormancy due to weather stress. The soil is still relatively warm, enabling good root growth for both existing and establishing turf grass, and the air temperatures are cooling, reducing any drought stress.
For a new-to-you property, a valuable first step is to have the soil tested, so you know what the basic nutrient profile is and whether adjusting acidity (pH) would benefit the grass. Refer to our Soil Testing web resources for information on how to test, what labs to consider using, and how to interpret the results. Our Lawn Maintenance Calendar page provides an overview of additional tasks by season.
If there are aggressive weeds in the lawn (those prone to taking over), discourage them from going to seed by mowing regularly. Ideally, dig them out, or if all else fails, spot-treat them carefully with herbicide to kill the roots. Always identify weeds before deciding how to treat them, so you know what ingredient to use and when, based on the plant’s life cycle, and choose a herbicide carefully since some may conflict with sowing grass seed. Weeds that are a nuisance but not very assertive can usually be ignored in favor of devoting efforts to getting the lawn’s vigor and density boosted, allowing it to outcompete most of them on its own over time. Over seeding with recommended turf grass cultivars, tested locally for performance and disease resistance, helps keep the lawn resilient and able to overcome pest pressures or mild disease outbreaks.
My recommendation to gardeners is that any lawn areas not needed for regular foot traffic use by kids, pets, or social gatherings be converted to alternative plantings instead. Granted, this may cost more than lawn maintenance at the outset and will require different maintenance habits, but in my opinion, the potential ecological benefits outweigh any hassle. Plus, it gives your yard that much more curb appeal and seasonal interest. To avoid being overwhelmed, you can do a conversion in stages, where areas cleared of lawn that you’re not ready to plant (due to time or budget constraints or lack of plant availability) can be protected with a wood chip mulch that will gradually improve the soil as it composts in place.
University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Extension” to send questions and photos.