Planning a garden late in the growing season generally means your plant choices are limited but if you’re particular and protective, you’ll be rewarded with a thriving garden in the spring.

Plants on retaining wall

Last year, we built a deck expansion and planted a new garden to line the structure (see our garden installation here). Since our construction was completed in late August, our options for the new bed were limited. Lined up on the retaining wall like soldiers ready for duty, the plants we chose for the sunny garden were selected for their hardiness and no-fail flowering.

Garden plants

After a very cold winter, we awaited the new growth in the spring with high hopes and fingers crossed. By midsummer, the garden met and surpassed our expectations with strong, sturdy and prolifically blooming plants that filled the space with color, texture and scent.

Side garden

Even with late-season discounts, you can invest quite a bit of cash in a garden full of plants. Be especially vigilant when shopping after midsummer to ensure your plants will have a chance to establish themselves before winter’s chill. Look for a healthy plant that has a full, bushy growth habit. Avoid any with yellowing or brown leaves. Choose compact, sturdy plants rather than long, leggy specimens. Check a plant over carefully—if it looks like it’s been pruned that may mean that diseased or damaged stems have been removed to make the plant look healthier.

Planted garden

If possible, opt for budding plants rather than those in full bloom. Transplant shock may cause the plant to lose its flowers. Without damaging the plant or pot, look for a good combination of roots and soil. Too much root points to a lack of nutrients. Too little rooting may mean the plant is weak and may not survive another transplant. (If a garden center won’t allow you to inspect a plant’s roots, take a pass on their stock.) Also, garden centers may guarantee some of their products. Ask for details of what is covered and for how long then, keep your receipts and/or warranties in a file.

Plants on retaining wall


Choose plants with a reputation for tenacity when landscaping around hard surfaces under full sun.

Hemerocallis Buttered Popcorn


Practically bomb-proof, daylilies, like Hemerocallis ‘Buttered Popcorn’, will flourish in almost any sunny spot. With over 80,000 cultivars, flowers come in a variety of colors. Drought-hardy and insect-resistant. Zones 3 to 9

Sedum Autumn Joy Herbstfreude


This plant needs almost no care and like everything else on this list, is ideal for a new gardener. Sedum comes in a range of shapes, sizes and colors (we like Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’) and stands up to bugs, heat, cold and drought. Zones 3 to 10

Nepeta Cat's Pajamas


One of the toughest perennials out there, catmint (as the name implies, cats love it) thrives in hot, dry weather. Silvery foliage with stems of blue flowers grows in soft mounds up to 3 feet tall. For dramatic effect, opt for the deep blue tones of Nepeta ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ seen here. Zones 3 to 9

Phlox Fashionably Early Flamingo


This drought-hardy, old-fashioned favorite bears clusters of fragrant blooms from summer to fall. Varieties with bold pink blooms such as Phlox ‘Fashionably Early Flamingo’ are ideal planted behind early blooming perennials that hide stems growing up to 4 feet tall. Zones 4 to 8

Walters_Salvia New Dimension Rose


Most perennial salvias—including sage—need little water once established. They attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Midsummer blooms return by fall if spent parts are clipped off. Salvia ‘New Dimension Rose’ mixed with blue varieties adds a colorful note to a perennial bed. Zones 4 to 8

Walters Penstemon Blackbeard


Above dark purple leaves, purple-pink flowers on Penstemon ‘Blackbeard’ in early to midsummer are followed by burgundy seed pods. Beardtongue attracts hummingbirds. Grow it in well-drained soil. Zones 3 to 8

Walters_Festuca Elijiah Blue


This blue-gray clumping grass prefers dry conditions. The fine stems of Festuca ‘Elijiah Blue’ add texture and cool color at the front of a border. In warm climates, it’s evergreen. In cold climates, trim the plant to 1 inch above the base before growth begins in early spring. Zones 4 to 8

Caruth Rudbeckia


North American natives, black-eyed Susans begin flowering in midsummer and continue through early frosts. They’re attactive to pollinators and will self-seed. Zones 3 to 9

Walters Thymus 'Coccineus'
Courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.


Deer-resistant groundcover, thymes, like Thymus ‘Coccineus’, bloom in spring or early summer. This Mediterranean plant excels in hot, dry conditions. Water until established; then little extra is needed. Zones 3 to 9

Plant photos courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc. except as noted.

© Caruth Studio