Want fall-flowering perennials? Build them into a great garden design
Let’s face it: most gardeners are starved for spring flowers, many of which are bulbs. Spring flowers give way to summer-flowering perennials and colourful annuals. But by the time September rolls around, the garden is looking sparse and tired, especially after the hot and dry summer we had in southwest Ontario. Yet there are several perennials that are fall-flowering. And, good garden designers incorporate at least a few of them into each design, so the homeowner will have a final burst of flowers before the spectacular blaze of fall leaf colour followed by leaf-drop.
Try some of these fall-flowering perennials in your garden:
Sedum (stonecrop) has fleshy leaves like a succulent and is able to withstand the heat of summer and periods of drought. The great news is that recently, a number of cultivars have been introduced commercially including ones with lime green, dark purple, blue-grey, and tri-colour leaves. There are also many dwarf varieties available. Some sedum makes a fine groundcover (check out ‘Dragon’s Blood’ and ‘Red Carpet’); sedum also works well in rock gardens. Sedum does best in full sun.
Sedum’s flowers range from white, to light pink, to hot pink, to red, and red-purple. ‘Autumn Joy’ is popular and many garden centres carry it. ‘Black Beauty’ has bronze to black leaves and reddish pink flowers; it is the darkest sedum available.
Many of the taller varieties of sedum benefit from a support such as a peony hoop; because their leaves can hold a fair amount of moisture, the stems can get quite heavy. As a result, a sedum clump can end up looking like Bambi, with legs splayed in different directions. Sedum is an important food source for bees and Monarch butterflies.
Many gardeners leave the spent seedheads for the winter and only do cut-back in the early spring. They like to watch the snow pile up on the seedheads which are very sturdy after they lose their moisture content in late November.
Ligularia (rayflower), below, is an interesting perennial that has large attractive, serrated round leaves that emerge deep purple in spring, turning dark green in summer with curious purple undersides and tinges of deep purple throughout the season. It is a good bedding and border plant used mainly for its foliage. The deep yellow flowers in the fall are a bonus. Check out ‘Desdemona’ and ‘Othello.’ Ligularia does best in partial shade.
Chrysanthemums and asters are always popular and the garden centres are full of them each year for good reason. You can’t beat chrysanthemums for a pop of instant fall colour. Chrysanthemums have fairly unspectacular leaves until the entire plant is covered in flowers at bloom time which is probably why many people treat this perennial as an annual. The growers do this by pinching it not once but twice during the growing season. They basically give it a really good haircut to encourage a carpet of buds to form on each plant.
The butterfly bush, below, is a shrub that can be cut back to almost ground level each spring, so it can sneak into this list of fall-flowering perennials. The butterfly bush starts flowering in mid- to late-August and keeps going into September. True to its name, it does indeed attract butterflies (and hummingbirds, too!) and is an important food source, along with sedum, as Monarch butterflies make their way south to Mexico. It does best in full sun.