Christian Co. Extension Office
Extend Garden Color with Fall Blooming Perennials
Soon gardeners will begin putting their perennials to bed for the winter. Adding mulch, cutting back old growth, and tidying beds are common practices in the weeks following a heavy frost. Although these are valid gardening tasks, I for one would like a little more effort from my garden. After all the work that goes into developing and maintaining flower beds, I believe it is only fair that the garden gives us something worth seeing outside of the six frost-free months.
By using fall-blooming perennials, you can keep your garden beds interesting during the cold months. Many fall-flowering perennials provide vivid color even after a killing frost and most are noted as being hardy and long-lived. When their color does fade, their dried flowers and stalks can remain in the garden to add beauty and provide a food source for birds.
There are several perennials that are noted for their fall color and other interesting attributes in the garden. One perennial that fits this category is the Toad Lily (Tricyrtis spp.). This plant thrives in partial shade with moist soil. Toad Lilies bloom from late September until frost with clusters of orchid-like flowers covered in pink, red, or purple spots. The Formosa Toad Lily (T. formosana) is often considered the showier of the species can grow to 3 feet tall and, in the right conditions, form large colonies. The flowers of Formosa are bluish-purple or lavender although some white cultivars are available. Toad Lilies are best used in woodland or shade gardens along pathways where their flowers are easily seen.
Montauk Daisy (Chrysanthemum nipponicum) is another late bloomer that helps extend the growing season. Montauk Daisy is a full sun plant that performs great in average, well-drained soil. White flowers with yellow centers cover its dark green foliage in September and October. Deadheading spent flowers will help encourage re-blooming. Prune this perennial to the ground each spring to promote dense growth and well-branched stems. This process will produce a shrubby plant about 2 to 3 feet tall. Chrysanthemum pacificum is another great selection from the mum family. This plant grows only 12 inches tall and produces tiny yellow button flowers that resemble tansy. Flowers appear in October but its variegated silver foliage adds year-round interest. Other noteworthy cultivars of Chrysanthemum to consider include: ‘Color Echo’ a spreading plant that blooms with reddish-purple flowers from October to December; ‘Jettie’ a November bloomer with white daisies growing to 3 feet tall; and ‘Sheffield Pink’ a large pink bloomer from September to early November.
The New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) is one of the showiest of the fall-bloomers. It is an easy to grow plant requiring full to partial sun and a site with well-drained soil. It may grow to 6 feet tall and bloom well into October with lavender, white, red, or pink flowers. Monarch butterflies are often seen clustered on this plant drinking nectar before their migration. ‘Purple Dome’ is a low-growing cultivar, reaching only 18 inches tall, but is outstanding as it explodes in early fall with masses of purple blooms.
Japanese Anemone (Anemone x hybrida) should not be confused with the low-growing, spring-blooming Anemone bulbs. Japanese Anemone is tall plant with branching stems growing to 4 feet. They are also a fall-bloomer with large pink, red or white petals through September. Once established, Japanese Anemones are tough and can survive neglect but may require mulching in colder winters. ‘Honorine Jobert’ is a popular white-blooming cultivar which does best in a consistently moist soil with good drainage in either full sun or part shade.
Boltonia (Boltonia spp.) is often called the “thousand flowered aster” because of the masses of half-inch flowers it produces in September. A popular white blooming Boltonia (Boltonia asteroides) grows to 4 feet tall with many white or pink flowers. Boltonia is an easy to grow perennial that prefers full sun and has the added advantage of tolerance to deer browsing.
There are many other perennials worth discovering for fall gardens. Helenium, False Dragon’s Head, Sedum, and Purple Coneflower are other plants recognized for their fall and winter interest. If you decide to add some of these selections to your garden, remember to plant early, at least three to four weeks before frost, generally October 20 for our area, to give roots time to establish. Although these perennials are hardy, it is important to provide mulch and plenty of water the first year for plants to survive and perform well next fall.