We plant flowers to welcome the spring and brighten our receding winter landscapes. We add color to the summer garden and often admire them from the comfort of our air-conditioned home. But the time of year when we step back outside to enjoy the cooler autumn temperatures, our gardens are often left barren. Leaving fall color to only the trees and the mums planted at your front door. Take advantage of the pleasant temperatures and extend your garden palette with these 5 must-have perennials for fall color.
Goldenrod. The name evokes fear in many who suffer from hay fever. But this spectacular fall bloomer isn’t the source of your suffering sinuses. It is, however, the source of tremendous fall color that shines bright on shortening days. Fireworks Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’) stands tall and wide at 3-feet and will give you the often-needed height for the back or middle of a perennial border. For smaller spaces, Little Lemon (Solidago hybrida ‘Dansolitlem’) fits well at the front of the border and offers a plethora of golden flowers for pollinators!
Sedum is an easy to grow drought-tolerant perennial that puts on a spectacular show when planted in groups. While Autumn Joy Sedum (Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’) may not be the newest sedum available, this colorful sedum has certainly proven her worth. At 18 to 24 inches in size, Autumn Joy flower clusters begin pink and age to a rosy-red in the fall. Not to be outdone, red-leaved sedums like Purple Emperor (Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’) add all-season color. While white flowering sedums like Thundercloud (Sedum ‘Thundercloud’) add an elegant touch to a garden.
To avoid the dreaded flop of taller sedum, cut back by 1/3 to 1/2 no later than the end of June. Within a few weeks, the plant will grow back out, and you will be left with a compact plant that doesn’t flop.
No fall garden is complete without an aster. In a season that is made up of warm colors, the vivid color of an aster bloom is sure to brighten the fall garden. New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are covered in deep pink-purple flowers and work well in the back of a perennial border at 3 to 6-feet tall and 2 to 3-feet wide. For smaller areas, plant October Skies (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’) with its sky blue blooms or the much-loved Purple Dome (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’) with its royal purple flowers. These asters will stay a compact 1 1/2 to 2-feet tall and 2-feet wide.
Once again, to control the floppy tendencies of asters and maintain a neat appearance, cut back by 1/3 to 1/2 no later than the end of June.
Brightly colored, semi-double anemone’s like Pamina (Anemone x hybrida ‘Pamina’), bring excellent color to a fall garden. But it’s the elegant flowers of September Charm (Anemone x hybrida ‘September Charm’) and Honorine Jobert (Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’) that will always be the gardeners favorite. Most anemone can become rather large, effortlessly reaching 3-feet tall and 2-feet wide. Therefore, plenty of space is recommended for these fall bloomers. These charming perennials work best with some morning sun and afternoon shade.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Shenandoah Switchgrass as a top perennial for fall color. Our focus may have been on blooms, but this Missouri native adds amazing burgundy-red foliage from June through fall. Standing at a compact 3-feet tall, Shenandoah Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) is quite adaptable for its columnar, narrow stature. This finely-textured grass has reddish-pink panicles in the late summer, which creates a lovely contrast with solid foliage perennials like that of Autumn Joy Sedum.
This post was originally published in September 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.