Top 10 Seasonal Stars of the Fall Garden

Spring perennial bloomers are easy. There are so many great spring performers that you always have something blooming all spring long with little effort. Fall can be a little trickier to have a constant parade of colorful bloomers, and I always am looking for new candidates and old favorites. Mums and asters are the usual suspects when people think of fall flowers, but there are so many more. Underutilized and interesting fall classics will elevate your garden from hum drum to dazzling!

Some of my picks are natives and deer resistant, so even if you have deer you can have a colorful garden.

1. Amsonia or Bluestar

Amsonia hubrichtii has fabulous fall foliage that lasts

Amsonia or Bluestar, a native, only has a place in my garden because of the long lasting yellow-gold foliage. The star like blue flowers in the spring are ho hum in the spring, but you want to plant this because of the autumn foliage. good in floral arrangements, the foliage lasts for weeks and goes through a transformation slowly from yellowish green to old gold.

Amsonia spring flowers

2. Japanese Anemone

Anemone ‘Pamina’

Floating above the border on long willowy stems, Japanese Anemones are a stalwart herbaceous perennial that lasts for years, and as a bonus – easy to grow. Many perennials are short-lived, lasting only for a few seasons, but I have had Anemones bloom for me in my garden for over 30 years. Reliable and deer resistant, they come in a variety of pinks, reds, and whites. Spreading by rhizomes, once you plant them, you can always count on them in late August and early September for a long lasting flower show. Mine just started to bloom in mid-August, despite the heat, and will continue for weeks.

Anemone Fantasy ‘Pocahontas’. a shorter Anemone at 12-18″

 Perennial Anemones grow well in moist soil conditions and can take part sun or part shade. I find the flower color is actually best with some afternoon shade.  They steadily spread when happy.

Anemones arching over a pathway at Ladew Topiary Gardens

Japanese anemones can grow up to 4 feet tall. Some taller varieties may need staking to keep them from falling over, but if you situate them close to supporting plants, they are fine. ‘Honorine Jobert’ a wonderful white heirloom variety is one of my favorites, but needs a little help in staying upright. That help might be surrounding supporting plants or against a fence. or wall.

Honorine Jobert Anemone
Closeup of ‘Red Riding Hood’, a newer variety

Since so many people have small gardens and can’t accommodate full-sized perennials, shorter varieties of Anemones, like Little Red Riding Hood, are on the market and more are coming out. I thought I would hate the shorter ones as one of the beauties of Anemones is the winsome willowy stems. But the shorter varieties are very floriferous and create a pop of color, albeit with a whole different form. Clumping forms of 12 to 18 inches tall, the plants are covered with blooms to make an instant color statement.

3. ‘Autumn Bride’ Coral Bells

Very underutilized in perennial borders and foundation plantings, I love using this particular native Heuchera or Coral Bells and sprinkle it throughout my gardens.

Creamy white wands of tiny flowers top the basal rosettes of lime green fuzzy leaves of ‘Autumn Bride’ Heuchera

A wonderful part shade or full shade perennial that you can’t kill, this perennial deserves a spot in everyone’s garden. I have nominated it for ‘Perennial of the Year’ several times but it has yet to catch on as a popular plant. Deer resistant, drought tolerant, and suited for mid-Atlantic humid summers, this perennial keeps on giving year after year.

Here is ‘Autumn Bride’ in late summer in full sun with Nepeta in the foreground
Lime green fuzzy leaves make this ‘Autumn Bride’ stand out in the spring

A wonderful ground cover plant that you can substitute for the more common Pachysandra and Vinca, this plant is semi-evergreen, staying around for about 10 months of the year, in the mid-Atlantic region. When spring comes, I just give the plant a hair cut to remove the tattered winter foliage and it shoots out new growth.

4. Blue Wood Aster

For the pollinators, I love the native Aster ‘Bluebird’, Aster laevis for sun or shade.

Aster ground cover, Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’, at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania

A versatile plant and long lived, you forget you have them until in September they burst into bloom. And the butterflies, bees, and other pollinators flock to the flowers. Planting asters is like looking to the future. You plant them in the spring and forget about them and them all the sudden they become queens of the garden!

There are quite a few species and varieties of asters and the two most commonly encountered asters are the New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and the New York Aster (S. novi-belgii), but you will see a range of hybrid varieties available in showy pinks, blues, and purples at garden centers.

Asters also attract bees and butterflies in droves, providing the pollinators with an important late-season supply of nectar.

Thanks to the aster’s late bloom time, they are sometimes called “Michaelmas daisies,” which refers to the holiday of the same name that occurs annually on September 29.

Asters can get quite large. If you need smaller varieties, try ‘Blue Bayou’, ‘Grape Crush’ Purple Dome’, or the ‘Woods’ series

Easy to grow, thriving on neglect, Asters grow profusely in full sun to light shade. I have noticed that rabbits and deer are fond of them when young, so protect them until they get about a foot high and they are on their own! Preferring consistent moisture, my asters perform well without any coddling.

Asters make this border at Ladew Topiary Gardens stand out
Asters in the meadow at Ladew Topiary Gardens
Fall border in Scotland full of Asters, Goldenrod, and Joe Pye

5. Mums

Sheffield Pink Mum does quite nicely in partial shade

Mums are of course the queen of autumn flowers, but I am referring to the ‘Garden Mums’, and not the florist mums that are grown by the millions and displayed in a pot on your front porch. Garden mums are a particular variety that you can grow from year to year and are in a single form, not the fluffy florets that you see on florist mums with stiff stems.

Sheffield Pink Mum
Campfire Glow Mum is one of my favorites

There are many varieties, such as ‘Clara Curtis’ and ‘Sheffield Pink’ which are old stalwarts that you will see in many gardens. Garden mums (also known as hardy mums) are smaller, sturdier, more compact plants typically grown in gardens or containers. Florist mums are less-hardy larger plants for floral arrangements.

Easy to grow in any garden soil, you can trim the stems back by half in mid-June to make them a bit shorter. I leave them alone as I like their sprawling habit.

Brandywine Sunset Mum
Coraligraphy Mum

6. Echibeckia

A blend of Echinacea (Coneflower) and Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan), I really like this unusual seasonal. Large flowers that are boldly marked with bright colors, this is also easy to grow. I have found these at Big Box stores and snatch them up when I see them.

The flowers of this Echibeckia ‘Summerina’ can reach 4 – 5 inches across

This happy marriage of two different flower varieties is only hardy to zone 7, which in my state of Maryland is the furthest north it can overwinter. But I have had this for 5 years already and it is still going strong.

I bought this Echibeckia at Home Depot

A great fresh cut, Echibeckia isn’t totally deer resistant, but it isn’t on their favorite list. I have more trouble with bunnies with this one.

7. Agastache or Anise Hyssop

Agastache would get the prize from me for longest blooming perennial. Once the wands of blooms start to pop open you are in for a show of at least 3 months or longer.  Fragrance and attraction to pollinators is another bonus. Every bit of the plant is fragrant and probably why deer give it a wide berth. And the color selection is phenomenal and getting better all the time.

Agastache interplanted with grasses
‘Rosie Posie’  Agastache is a bee magnet
Fall border at Longwood Gardens with a coral Agastache at the front corner
‘Blue Fortune’ Agastache is an old standy

8. Grasses

No fall garden list top 10 should omit grasses. For fall, grasses are the bones of your garden that will showcase your colorful perennials. Their texture, ease of care, and resistance to deer, should be your incentive to plant these. Even in a small garden, you can use some well mannered beautiful grasses that aren’t going to take over and get too large. Japanese Forest Grass (Hakenochloa), and Mexican Feather Grass (Nasella tenussima) are great small stature grasses to use, one in the shade (Japanese Forest Grass) and the Mexican Feather Grass in the sun.

Grasses are also colorful as well as textural. Pink Mulhy grass is a gorgeous bubblegum pink!

Mexican feather grass, Nasella tenussima,  is a great foil for so many perennials that I use this in virtually every garden I design
Japanese Forest Grass ‘All Gold’ adds some nice texture in the shade
Variety of fall grasses at Longwood Gardens; the pink is Muhlenbergia capillaris, or Muhly Grass
I love these large see through grasses in the fall garden

9. Sedum

Sedum ‘Matrona’ has purple red stems and foliage
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is an old standby that shines in the fall garden

The tall Sedums are another reliable and long blooming fall stalwart. ‘Autumn Joy’, ‘Brilliant’, and ‘Abbeydore’, are all great varieties, but I am particularly fond of ‘Matrona’ with its ruby red stems. Deer will browse on this sometimes as the foliage is very succulent.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ fades to a mauve as the fall progresses

Attracting hordes of pollinators, Sedum isn’t a native, but still valuable as a pollinator attractor. The foliage is attractive all season long and the flowers last for months, in flower, and dried on the stem. Leave the stems up all winter for structure in the winter garden.

10 Helenium

Helenium ‘Salsa’ sticks out in the landscape

Helenium, Helen’s Flower, produces masses of colorful yellows, reds, and oranges, in full sun and gets 3-4 feet high. Making fantastic cut flowers, you can trim this back in early June to promote more branching and extra flowers.

Helenium ‘Salsa’
Helenium ‘Fuego’

You can’t beat the flower power of Helenium. Not many plants produce the intense sizzling color that you get from a single plant. Worth planting just for the butterflies!

One Reply to “Top 10 Seasonal Stars of the Fall Garden”

  1. Great topic, Claire. We all – people & plants -tend to fade as the heat grows in late summer and these offer failsafe color and new vitality. Love agastache!

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