Perennials for Fall Color


The official start of autumn is just around the corner, but it’s still summer now and there is plenty of time to enjoy many wonderful plants with fabulous blooms and/or colorful foliage.  We have nearly two more months of viable growing time left to enjoy this season, so why not make the most of it?

Currently, my own garden still has several Phlox paniculata in bloom and the Japanese Anemones (white ones and pink ones) began to open up a couple of weeks ago.  I find Anemones to be the most elegant of all fall perennials and they are also very tough plants, adaptable to both sun and part shade.  Out near my mailbox, pink Fairy Roses are still producing blooms and my perennial plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) which skirts around my Blue star junipers is in full flower with glorious cobalt blue blossoms.  Allium senescens line the very front of this bed and are fully budded, as are the Allium thunbergii ‘Ozawa’ along the walkway to my back door.

In the front yard, so many flowers are still blooming.  In addition to the aforementioned Phlox and Anemones, Caryopteris, Salvia azurea, and Bottle gentian are at peak.  My ‘Green Jewel’ and ‘White Swan’ Echinaceas are looking fabulous.  Echinaceas are extremely long blooming and can be counted on to produce flowers from July straight through to a hard frost.  If you are looking for a really tall plant for the back of a bed then look no further than Vernonia novaboracensis.  I have Ironweed growing out front and one of them must be at least eight feet tall.  It is a native plant with purple flowers and has been blooming for well over a month in my yard.

Several varieties of Aster (sometimes now called Symphyotrichum) grow here at Doveflower Cottage, most are tall asters including ‘Harrington’s Pink’ and a deep purple one that has been growing in my yard for so long I can’t remember which variety it is.  ‘Purple Dome’ is a rich purple Aster that only grows about 8-10 inches tall, and can be used nicely at the front of the border.   Asters make fabulous cut flowers and support many pollinators.

Though not really considered a perennial in our zone, dahlias are a superb way to add late color in the garden.  I go for the large blossomed types, some of which are considered “dinner plate” dahlias.  My colors are in the pink, coral, and dark purple shades, with a few white ones mixed in.  Bulbs can be purchased in the early spring and planted when the soil is warmed a bit.  I start mine in pots out back in a sunny gravel area in late April, having stored the tubers over the winter at a friend’s.  (Thank you Anne!)  Once or twice, I have overlooked a couple of them when it was time to dig them up in the fall and, amazingly, they came through the next season.  (But this is not recommended!)

Along the top of the retaining wall at the front of the house, ‘Coral Carpet’ roses, with an underplanting of Geranium ‘Rozanne” are still going strong.  Many roses will continue to bloom well into the fall and sometimes even into December!

Around the corner where plants receive morning sun only, is a mophead hydrangea (H. macrophylla) now turning some very dreamy shades of mauve and well… almost aqua.  This east-facing garden also features two Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) shrubs.  The one that has been there the longest was a gift from a friend.  It is pure white and started out as a tiny little thing that is now eight feet tall.  The other is ‘Pink Chiffon’ which I fell in love with at first sight.  To me, though, the most notable plant in that area is the Peony obovate.  It is a Japanese woodland peony, so it appreciates some shade, and in spring it produces simple white cup-shaped flowers.  But its’ true glory time is now, when the seed pods show off their beautiful inside colors of red and blue.  This is a plant best placed near the edge of the garden, up close and personal, so that you can easily view this exceptional and intriguing show.

Dendranthema, formerly classified as a Chrysanthemum, are a fall favorite.  The ones I recommend for the garden are the daisy shaped ones, such as Sheffield (pale peach), Bolero (bright golden), Clara Curtis (pale pink), and Cambodian Queen (a somewhat richer pink).  They bloom well into October and satisfy the urge for a bouquet to bring to a friend, or grace the kitchen table, very late in the season.

In my back yard, where there are some partly shaded areas, I grow Aconitum carmichaelii (aka Monkshood or Wolfsbane).  This spectacular, and exquisitely deep blue perennial is a tall, late bloomer, and though very lovely, it is still a plant to be cautious about, as it is toxic.  Although I have never known anyone to suffer from association with it, it bears noting.

One more great fall plant I grow is Actea pachypoda (aka Dolls Eyes) and I have to share some info about it with you.  It grows in my front yard where I have a small shady area.  This plant does nothing terribly exciting until the end of the season when it forms white berries along the top of each stem.  Each white berry has a black dot in the center, hence the name Doll’s Eyes.  They often hang on until Halloween and lend a slightly spooky element to the fall garden.

Here are are a few other fabulous late bloomers for part shade that I want to mention.  Kirengeshoma (aka Japanese Wax Bells) is a large perennial whose draping branches terminate in yellow bell flowers.  Chelone (aka Turtlehead) has flowers that really do look like turtle heads, and it is a native plant.  Tricyrtis (aka Toad lily) come in a few different varieties and have flowers resembling tiny orchids.

So, you may have guessed, my personal color scheme does not include much in the way of bright golds and oranges, but plants in that color range are perfectly wonderful.  These colors look fabulous when paired with blue flowered plants, such as Agastache foeniculum or a Salvia azureum.

Also missing from my garden but well-loved by many are Montauk Daisies (Nipponanthemum nipponicum).  Perhaps the very latest bloomer of the season, these pure white daisies often grow to the size of a shrub.  In order to prevent these plants from getting too leggy, cut these perennials back by about 1/3 or so in the middle of the summer.  This prevents flopping and dividing in the center of the plant.

Having already mentioned the hydrangea macrophylla on the east side of my house, I want to add that, as a group, hydrangeas are wonderful and rewarding plants.  The paniculata types bloom later in the season and give us those lovely, creamy white, conical flowers that blush into a rosy pink shade as they age (wouldn’t it be lovely if we could do that?).  Other species are H. arborescens (some show gorgeous fall colors), and H. quercifolia which has oak-shaped leaves that turn a deep burgundy in the fall.  It is also a native!  I love to try different types of Hydrangeas, in large part to see what color they will turn at the end of the season.  Along with two blue lace caps and two blue mopheads, I have three white ‘Wedding Gown’ hydrangeas in my yard.  They start out white but have matured into a rich pink and pistachio green.

One more amazing addition for fall that I must mention is the Sourwood tree (Oxydendron arboretum) a relatively small tree (average height 30 feet), with the absolute best fall foliage!  This is another native plant, and it glows in the fall sunshine.

Late Summer and Fall Blooming Perennials

Scientific Name / Common Name / Colors

Achillea / Yarrow / White, yellow, orange, red, pink, purple

Aconitum / Monkshood / Deep blue-purple

Actaea / Black Cohosh, Snakeroot / White

Actaea pachypoda / Doll’s Eyes / White berries

Agastache / Hyssop / Blue, purple, pink, red, orange

Allium / Ornamental Onion / Pink, purple

Amsonia / Bluestar / Golden foliage in fall

Anemone / Windflower, Japanese Anemone / White, pink

Aster / Aster / White, pink, purple

Astilbe / False Goat’s Beard / White, pink, purple

Boltonia / False Aster / White

Caryopteris / Caryopteris / Blue

Ceratostigma / Hardy Plumbago, Leadwort / Blue

Chelone / Turtlehead / White, pink

Chrysanthemum / Mum / White, yellow, orange, red, pink, purple

Cimicifuga / Cohosh, Bugbane / White

Clematis / Sweet Autumn Clematis / White

Dendranthemum / Daisy, Mum / White, yellow, pink

Echinacea / Coneflower / White, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, purple

Eupatorium / Boneset, Blue Mistflower / White, pink, purple

Eutrochium / Joe-Pye Weed / Pink, purple

Gentiana / Gentian / Blue

Helenium / Sneezeweed / Yellow, orange

Helianthus / Perennial Sunflower / Yellow

Hemerocallis / Daylily / White, yellow, orange, pink, red

Hibiscus / Rose Mallow, Swamp Mallow / White, pink, red, purple

Iris domestica / Leopard Lily, Blackberry Lily / Orange

Kalimeris / Japanese Aster / White, pink, purple

Lamium / Dead Nettle / White, pink, purple

Lavandula / Lavender / Blue, purple

Monarda / Bee Balm / Red, pink, purple

Nipponanthemum / Montauk Daisy / White

Origanum / Oregano / Purple

Perovskia / Russian Sage / Purple

Phlox / Garden Phlox / White, pink, purple

Platycodon / Balloon Flower / Blue, purple

Pycnanthemum / Mountain Mint / White

Rudbeckia / Black Eyed Susan / Yellow

Salvia / Meadow Sage / White, pink, blue, purple

Sedum / Stonecrop / Pink

Solidago / Goldenrod / Yellow

Symphyotrichum / Aster / White, pink, blue, purple

Tricyrtis / Toad Lily / White with purple

Vernonia / Ironweed / Pink, blue, purple

Veronica / Speedwell / White, pink, blue, purple

Veronicastrum / Culver’s Root / White, blue, purple

4 responses to “Perennials for Fall Color”

  1. Melody Truesdell says:

    When will fall mums be available to purchase?

  2. The Kennedy Team says:

    Hi Melody,
    We usually start getting our mums in at the end of August.

  3. JMWhite says:

    Great column thank you
    Surprise in my garden is a squash plant! We are all watching its growth. The tentacles that curl around a fence near it, the flowers, the leaves and hopefully squash! How often should I fertilize? I have organic fertilizer for flowers and vegetables that you sold me. At least I’m allowed to water a food plant! Water restrictions!
    Thank you

    • The Kennedy Team says:

      Thank you. Glad you enjoyed the information. I would say every 2 weeks. Avoid a fertilizer with a lot of nitrogen.
      That will produce great foliage, but not a lot of flowers & fruit.
      Good luck!

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