Fall-Blooming Perennials

Posted: September 20, 2012

Perennials that bloom in the fall add vivid color to the garden at a time when it is pleasant to get out into the garden again, as milder temperatures and clear blue skies herald the turn of the seasons from summer to autumn.
Japanese Anemones add a touch of pink to the autumn garden.

Japanese Anemones add a touch of pink to the autumn garden.

In addition to providing a range of colors from white and gold to pink and purple, late-blooming perennials can extend garden interest even into winter. Leaving dried flower heads and stalks to stand over winter can add form and structure to the garden, as well as provide food and shelter for birds and other creatures.

Here are a few of my favorite late-season perennials:

· Toad lily thrives in partial shade and rich moist soil. It is low-growing, with speckled orchid-like flowers that bloom from late September until frost. (Tricyrtis species)

· Japanese anemone has large pink, reddish or white flowers that resemble single roses rising on slender stalks three to four feet above mounds of rich green foliage. It does well in light shade; it is somewhat drought tolerant but prefers rich, well-drained but moist soil. Some varieties will spread to naturalize. (Anemone x hybrida)

· Russian sage starts blooming in summer and continues well into fall. It produces spikes of fragrant purple flowers above silvery-green foliage.  The stalks dry to a winter white that looks great next to shrubs with red berries. (Petrovskia atriplicifolia)

· Turtlehead is a native perennial that performs well in sun to light shade. Its native habitat is in damp soil along streams, but it is very adaptable to average garden soil. Its glossy dark green foliage sets off pink or white flowers that resemble snapdragons. (Chelone species and cultivars).

· Cultivars of Joe Pye weed grow 4 feet high with burgundy stems, dark green whorled foliage, and dusky mauve flowers. This plant likes moist soil but will do fine in drier gardens. (Eupatorium cultivars.)

· Sedum varieties such as ‘Autumn Joy’ have with pink to reddish flowers that turn maroon, then a tawny brown as cold weather arrives. It prefers full sun and average garden soil. (Sedum cultivars.)

· Goldenrod does well in sun or partial shade and dry soil, with golden-yellow flowers in fall. Wild species are very common in fields and along roadsides, but select better-behaved cultivars such as ‘Fireworks’ or ‘Golden Fleece’ for the garden. (Solidago cultivars.)

It’s hay fever time again, and every fall goldenrod gets a “bum rap” as the source of the pollen that plagues hay fever sufferers. But goldenrod is not the culprit; ragweed is!  Ragweed blooms at about the same time as goldenrod, but its tiny greenish flowers are inconspicuous and unnoticed, since its pollen is windborne.

If you look at goldenrod, you’ll see that its flowers are a mecca for bees and other insects, feeding on nectar and gathering pollen as they do so, preparing for winter. Goldenrod is pollinated by insects; its pollen is too heavy and sticky to be windborne, so it cannot be the source of “hay fever” allergens that spread on the wind. 

So go ahead, enjoy the sunshiny gold of goldenrod in our meadows and fields.  And in the garden, shorter, well-behaved cultivars of goldenrod are a perfect combination with purple asters.