My Favorite Autumn Blooming Perennials!
Autumn is synonymous with tree planting season, and we still have lots to choose from! Now is a great time to shop trees because you get to see a glimpse of what they look like in fall. Right now, many of our maples, black gums, and witchhazels are starting to turn beautiful colors! But you can still shop perennials too. Matter of fact, fall is a great time buy and plant perennials because you get to see which ones are blooming around this time of year. By including fall blooming perennials, you extend the bloom time of the garden by at least 2 months! Not only do they bring more flower power and color for aesthetics, but they also provides additional food sources for pollinators before winter.
So don’t give up your gardening zeal yet! Many plants are beginning to drop leaves but many perennials are in their glory time! While some summer perennials hold blooms through early fall, such as Coreopsis and Black Eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia), I want to share with you my favorites that strictly start blooming, or at least hit their peak, in fall!
✰Also note our perennial sale going on till the end of October! Buy 5 or more and they are 50 percent off!✰
Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
As one of the east coast’s most ecologically important flowers, goldenrod should be utilized more by gardeners. What’s not to like about it – it’s drought tolerant, deer tolerant, long-lived, a pollinator magnet – and who doesn’t like cheery yellow? There are around a dozen species native to western Pennsylvania and a number of cultivars in the trade.
When I make this suggestion to people, I am sometimes told “it’s a weed.” Bah! A weed is a plant that doesn’t belong, such as invasives Japanese Knotweed and Garlic Mustard, or noxious bittercress and crabgrass. Goldenrod, on the other hand, is a native flower that absolutely belongs! For the contrarian, may I suggest a paradigm shift. Native wildflowers are not weeds, but many of the best perennials we can plant! And contrary to popular belief, goldenrod is not responsible for fall allergies! Goldenrod pollen is sticky and requires pollinators to move it around. Wind pollinated grasses and Ragweed (Ambrosia sp.) are the big culprits of fall allergies!
I really like the cultivar “Solar Cascade” which has a weeping, arching habit – it looks best when planted along rock walls and in mass plantings. “Fireworks” is more upright, with arching secondary stems. “Little Lemon” is a dwarf hybrid, perfect for small gardens or the front of a bed. Most goldenrods bloom from August to October. My garden has a natural western Pennsylvania vibe to it so I have lots of goldenrod. Many yards tire when fall rolls around; my plan is to keep my garden vibrant in fall as it was in summer!
Aster (Symphyotrichum sp.)
Another genus with many native species, asters are another of my favorites! Asters come in purples, pinks, pansy blues, and whites. Most cultivars available are hybrids of New York aster, New England aster, and Aromatic aster, including the “Woods” series and the cultivars “October Skies” and “Purple Dome.” Like goldenrod, it’s a tough plant and an excellent pollinator magnet. Asters typically bloom from September to October.
Oh, and let us not neglect the wood aster (Symphyotrichum divaricatus), which has dainty white flower and is a great choice for the part-shade garden. Come see ours planted in our display bed by the garden center building!
Boltonia (Boltonia asteroides)
This perennial has aster like flowers, so much so that it is sometimes called False Aster or Thousand Flowering Aster. Somewhat different though is the larger size. Boltonia can grow 4 to 5 feet tall making it an excellent perennial for a dramatic statement. We carry the straight species but also the cultivar “Snowbank.” Like the two above, this is a native plant that the pollinators adore! As with tall perennials, you can cut them in half in early to mid summer for a shorter and bushier habit if you wish. Boltonia typically blooms from August to September though a summer chop may delay the flowering.
Perennial Sunflower (Helianthus sp.)
Like goldenrod, perennial sunflowers bring a blast of golden cheer to the fall landscape. Golden-yellow flowers, with a backdrop of red and orange maple leaves, has to be the epitome of perfection! We carry perennial sunflowers every year but they often seem to be an afterthought, probably because most people equate all sunflowers with the annual varieties. Blooming ranges from August through October, maybe November, depending on the cultivar.
Ironweed (Vernonia sp.)
The name of this plant is half right – it’s no weed but it’s tough as iron alright! Like golderod, ironweed is drought tolerant, deer tolerant, and tolerant of brief floods. Commonly seeing growing amongst goldenrod in open fields, it is a pollinator magnet in early autumn. One of my favorites is a cultivar of Letterman ironweed (Vernonia lettermanii) called “Iron Butterfly.” This dwarf lacey cultivar blooms in September but has attractive foliage the rest of the year.
Azure Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii)
This species of monkshood blooms late, usually from August to October – although I noticed a grouping in one person’s front yard still flowering last November. Pansy-blue flowers bloom atop tall, erect stems, providing a nice vertical statement. The foliage from this monkshood is also attractive. I remember when I first learned about this perennial when I was in college; I was very impressed to see this plant in my campuses’ botanical garden, blooming terrifically despite the frigidness of east Idaho’s mid-fall temps. Monkshood is poisonous, so bear in mind as you plant. But don’t panic; many other common garden plants are also poisonous if intaken such as daffodil and yew, and we don’t hear problems from those. Just wash your hands after handling it, and don’t eat it (duh!).
Other Honorable Mentions
Stonecrop (Hylotelephium sp., formerly Sedum) is a popular succulent plant that is a great choice for hot, dry and even neglectful spaces. It can tolerate both rocky and clay soil too. Matter of fact, it tends to be floppy in rich, wet soils. It has attractive foliage and great fall flower power. Pollinators love it too! The most popular cultivar is “Autumn Joy” but we carry many different cultivars.
Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) begins to blooms at the end of summer but continues into early fall. The near true-blue flowers on this shade groundcover fade later in fall, about when the rich green leaves turn a vibrant red.
Japanese Anemone (Anemone sp.) is another fall beauty. Attractive foliage emerges in spring, producing light to rich pink flowers in late summer or early fall. Smaller and medium sized cultivars are available so finding space for one in your garden should be easy-peasy!
Toadlily (Tricyrtus sp.) is a an excellent perennial for the shade garden, and as a native of east Asia, fits perfectly in a Japanese or Zen garden. This 1-3 footer boasts attractive foliage and unique flowers in early autumn.
Threadleaf BlueStar (Amsonia hubrichtii) blooms in spring but I have to mention this here because of the stunning golden fall color this lacey perennial holds!
Grasses: Don’t forget the grasses! Perennial grasses flower in late summer and fall! My favorite grasses are Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Little Blue Stem (Schizachyrium scopularium), and Prairie Dropseed (Sporobulus heterolepis). Check out my last post on grasses here: https://plumlinenursery.com/2020/09/22/kicking-grass-and-taking-names/
While many other nurseries have a bare selection this time of year, we still have an excellent selection of fall blooming perennials. We also still have an excellent selection of spring and summer flowering perennials if you’re behind in those areas too! Hellebores are the first garden plant to flower in spring (March to April) and we still have many of them to choose from too! We’ll close up shop in mid-November so there’s still time but the sooner you can get your plants in the ground, the more time they’ll have to root out while the ground is still warm! Happy plantings!
Photos provided by Plumline Nursery employee Aaron Grabiak with Aaron Grabiak Garden Photography & Landscape Design, North Creek Nurseries, and Proven Winners.