Many gardeners rely on summer annuals to add color to their late summer/early fall garden, but there are some great perennials for both sun and shade that are just beginning to bloom and will give your garden some new zing.
Chrysanthemums are hitting the market now, and while they are perennials, they do need some care to look their best all growing season. Many gardeners treat them as annuals, buying new plants each fall, but they can be good perennials with just a little care. They come in a wide range of colors and flower sizes. If you are buying plants in bloom, don’t buy them in full, peak color or they won’t last as long. Choose plants with some flowers open but plenty of buds. Full sun to partial shade is best.
Goldenrod is a wonderful late summer/fall perennial. Solidago is the genus of this member of the aster family. There are numerous species, with many new varieties on the market. This perennial plant is loaded with bright yellow blooms for months in late summer through fall. It often gets blamed for the hay fever that many suffer from in the fall, but it isn’t the culprit. While goldenrod is out there showing off its beautiful yellow blooms, the true culprit is ragweed, with greenish white blooms. The pollen on goldenrod is too large to fly so it won’t cause allergic reactions.
The main species we see blooming along the highways and byways of Arkansas is the tall S. canadensis or Canada goldenrod. It is probably a bit too large and aggressive for most home gardens, but try some of the newer ones like “Fireworks,” “Golden Cascade,” “Golden Fleece” and “Goldrush” or some of the more compact species like S. caesia — the wreath goldenrod, or Solidago argute, the Cutleaf goldenrod. Not only will these plants provide you weeks of yellow blooms, they are good for bees and butterflies while in bloom, and the seeds are a food source for birds in the winter. Most species prefer full sun, but the wreath goldenrod is actually a good woodland plant as well. They are drought-tolerant and fairly pest free.
Asters are another great fall flower. There are several species to choose from and they are an important nectar source for insects in the late summer and fall, as well as food for many butterfly larvae. In the winter, small birds can eat the seeds. Flowers come in shades of pink, purple and white. Most asters prefer full sun and well-drained soil.
And not to be overlooked are the salvias. The salvia genus is large, with a very diverse mix of plants. While there are numerous annual varieties, the perennial forms are the garden superstars. Flower color can range from sky blue to purple, white, pink, red and even yellow. Size of plants can also vary from 12 inches to 5 feet tall — Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha) is a show-stopper. While some salvias give you intermittent blooms or non-stop color in the summer, they are all ablaze in the fall garden. Not only are they showy but they are a beacon for butterflies and bees. Full sun and well-drained soils are preferred.
If you have shade, you still have great perennial flower options for fall. Toad lilies are blooming their hearts out now. There are two species to choose from — Tricyrtis hirta and T. formosana. Both produce lovely speckled orchid-like blooms which are very attractive to bees. T. hirta is sometimes called hairy toad lily because all plant parts are hairy. It is the better-behaved variety, with arching stems graced with blooms, and it does not spread rampantly by rhizomes like its cousin. T. formosana is taller and a bit more aggressive, with flowers born at the top of the stems instead of cascading. Both perform well in the shade.
Another amphibian-named flower is Turtlehead or Chelone. This perennial is native to wet woodland areas in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The plants will grow and bloom in light to deep shade areas, with bright pink snapdragon-like blooms that resemble the head of a turtle, thus the common name. This plant is not drought-tolerant, and likes a well-drained, but moist, rich site.
Japanese anemones are another great fall bloomer for the shade garden. The plant grows 10-12 inches tall and is covered in either single or double, white or pink blooms for weeks. It thrives in light shade, dappled sunlight, or morning sun and afternoon shade. It does best in moist but well-drained soil. It also can spread a bit if the soil is rich.
These are just a smattering of plants for your fall garden. A great garden should have something in bloom in every season, not just spring and summer. Extending the color palette with fall-blooming perennials gives your bees and butterflies a new feast, plus gives you a feast for the eyes. Throw in some pumpkins and gourds to the display, and your garden will pop with color.