Fall gardens can be spectacular with bold combinations of the jewel toned colors of deep purples, rusts, scarlet, and gold. But they do take some planning earlier in the gardening season. For fall flowers to be hardy in your garden, you need to plant and establish them earlier in the season. Fall flowers may bloom late, but they bloom best if they've been in the garden all season.
Two Things to Consider When Planning Your Fall Garden
- The first is easy. Select plants that have a late bloom... period and that you are certain will bloom in your area before frost. The list below will help with this.
- Secondly, fall bloomers can get very tall and leggy. They focus on becoming established and growing leaves all summer. When they bloom, they are often top heavy and fall over. To ensure your fall display is as glorious has it should be, you have a handful of options.
- You could stake the plants, as they grow. This can be a tedious chore, but it will keep them upright and tall. (Staking needs to be done early in the season. There's no way to straighten and stake a plant that has already bent over.)
- Planting your fall blooming plants in the back of a border is another option. You can allow them to grow as tall as they like, because the shorter plants in front support them and, as an added plus, they will disguise the fall bloomers until it's their turn to shine. And it's less work than staking.
- And finally, you could do some periodic pruning to make the plants stockier and more self-supporting. If you start cutting the plants back when they reach about 6 - 8 inches tall, they will branch out and set more flower buds. Keep doing this every 3 - 4 weeks, until about July 4th, then let them grow on their own for the rest of the summer. You will have a shorter, but bushier plant. Keep in mind that if you prune your plants, you will be delaying the bloom period by a week or more.
And not all plants respond to pruning. Do some research on your specific plant before you start cutting.
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Balloon flower is in the Campanula or bellflower family, but its flowers are a bit more dramatic. They start off as a puff or bubble and pop open, when they are ready to bloom. This is a profuse bloomer, in lavender-blue, pale pink, or white. The plants spread slowly,filling in without becoming a nuisance. Other than cutting the plants back in the spring or fall, virtually no other maintenance is required. USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9
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Caryopteris, the Blue Mist Shrub, is actually a sub-shrub that is often grown in the perennial garden. Blue Mist Shrub slowly opens its blossoms throughout August, with dazzling blue flower clusters. Just try and keep the butterflies and bees away. Blue Mist Shrub should be cut back in early spring, like a Buddleia, because it blooms on new wood. The gray-green foliage is attractive all season. USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9
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Goldenrod has suffered from the mistaken notion that it exacerbates hay fever. Ragweed is the real culprit, not goldenrod. This is one of the last flowers to bloom in the fall. Most varieties are tall and stately, however there are also several dwarf varieties available, for the front of the border. Newer goldenrod cultivars do not spread by rhizomes, the way the species does, so they do not take over the whole garden. USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 8
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Japanese anemones are standards in most billowing perennial borders. They start blooming in late summer and go straight through to frost. Each plant is covered in elegant, paper-like blooms. Japanese anemones will take a few years to become established, but once they settle in, they require little maintenance. They will self-sow, but not
aggressively, and most gardeners welcome the volunteers. USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 8Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Joe Pye is one of those native plants we take for granted because we see it by the side of the road. The species can get a bit out of hand and aggressive, but newer cultivars make a wonderful backdrop to a garden border. Many of the newer Eupatoriums have been bred to grow shorter with less of a weedy nature, but the dense mop heads of mauve flowers still blend in beautifully in the fall garden. There are also white flowered varieties. USDA Hardiness Zones 2-9
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Mums and pumpkins are the flag bearers of fall. There are many varieties of mums, but not all are particularly hardy. The plants sold in the fall as 'Hardy Mums' should have been sold to us in the spring, to be reliably hardy in the north. However, if you buy yours in the fall, try and get them in the ground ASAP. Keep them well watered and mulch once the ground freezes and you'll stand your best chance of having truly hardy mums. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9
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In shades of pink, purple, blue and white, these delicate daisy-like blossoms start popping open in late August and continue on until frost. Pinching in the early summer turns these Asters into full mounds with dozens of flower buds.
Many varieties of asters will tend to creep throughout your garden, but their airiness allows them to blend particularly well with other flowers. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9
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Like the blue mist shrub, Russian sage is considered a subshrub. While its stems do get woody and it might not die back to the ground, it will still need to be pruned in the spring because the flowers form on the new growth. Russian sage flowers sneak up on you. They start off as a barely perceptible hint of blue and finally erupt into a hazy cloud of purple-blue that lasts for weeks. USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 9Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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Snakeroot makes a wonderful focal point in the fall garden. If you shy away from the bold colors of fall, snakeroot may be just the ticket for you. This plant grows well in partial shade, where a little drama is always welcome. The plant itself only grows to about 3 - 4 ft., but the flower stakes will shoot up to 6 or 7 ft. in height. Snakeroot takes awhile to become established, but be patient; it's worth it. USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 7
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Helenium is making a resurgence in gardens. They look like small russet-toned coneflowers, in rich reds, yellows, and oranges. Many helenium can grow quite tall and will need to be staked or pinched. Like clematis, they like cool feet and hot heads, so use mulch or plant your helenium with shorter plants covering its roots. Helenium is also a good choice for poorly drained areas. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9
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Sedum 'Autumn Joy' comes as close to perfection as any plant can. It looks good all year, requires minimal attention and attracts few problems. Its only drawback is that it is not deer resistant. 'Autumn Joy' has been joined in the garden by a growing number of fall wonders like: 'Bertram Anderson, 'Brilliant' and 'Matrona'. No fall garden is complete without sedum. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9
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Sunflower, Perennial (Helianthus hybrids)
Many gardeners are more familiar with annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) that can grow 10 ft. tall with plate-sized flowers. Helianthus is a large genus of flowers and many are perennial, blooming toward the end of the season. You will still get yellow, daisy-like flowers, but they are more modestly sized. However there are plenty of them and they won't topple over the way annual sunflowers do. USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Autumn Crocus (Colchicum speciosum)
You are probably familiar with the spring blooming crocus, but this little beauty doesn't put on its show until fall. It grows best in partial shade and a little dampness is always welcome. They only grow a few inches tall, but they make a wonderful carpet, scattered under trees and along walkways. All parts of the plant are poisonous, which means deer, rabbits, and other 4-footed pests steer clear of them. USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 9
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The Coreopsis genus is home to many popular garden plants. Most bloom periodically throughout the summer season, but if you prune yours back after flowering, they will put on a glorious fall display. The cheery yellow flowers may be most familiar, but tickseed now comes in other colors, like red and pink. Most diseases and pests avoid them. USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 9
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Chelone lyonii got its nick-name for the blossoms shaped like turtle heads, Chelone is a carefree fall blooming perennial whose only real dislike is excessive dry heat. It's perfect for a damp area in your garden. Turtlehead behaves itself, growing in a dense clump with attractive foliage and red, pink or white flowers that bloom for weeks. You can prune lightly to shape it in late fall or spring. USDA Hardiness Zones 2-9