One of the biggest gardening tips I ever learned was to plan a garden that had perennials blooming all season. It’s so easy to have blooms in the spring, the early summer, high summer and even into August. But to get perennials that bloom in the fall is another challenge. Here’s eight plants you can add to your perennial border to have blooms right through to the end of October (or beyond in some areas).
It’s the obvious choice….late bloomers that withstand frost, mums are the perfect fall flower. They come in a myriad of colours, heights and size of blooms. But a lot of people don’t have much success with them. Mostly because we buy the wrong mum. Those mums you find at the grocery store in pots really aren’t hardy enough to withstand a cold, snowy winter and will most likely not return come spring. So make sure you are buying hardy mums from a nursery.
Asters (Michaelmas Daisies):
This daisy-like flower begins to bloom in late August and early September, providing colour throughout the autumn. Most commonly seen in purple with yellow centres, asters can also be yellow, white and pink. Place them at the back of the border as they can be as tall as 5′, so some staking may be needed. Divide them every three or four years to allow for good air circulation and stronger stems. They also attract butterflies.
Joe Pye Weed:
Tall, stately and full of colour when we need it most, Joe Pye weed is not a weed. It’s native to North America and is hardy to zone 2. Joe Pye weed needs moist, fertile soil as it’s natural habitat is wet and marshy. We take it for granted as it’s seen so often on the side of the road. But it’s a terrific plant to add to your perennial border. Give it lots of room as it grows to 5′ and can spread as wide as 4′. Worth giving up valuable real estate for with it’s purple mop head cluster of flowers atop red stems.
Helianthus (Perennial Sunflower):
One of my favourites in the garden, these long lasting helianthus are lovely from mid-summer on through fall. My secret garden is filled with these perennial sunflowers where it thrives in poor, sandy soil. It needs full sun however to really thrive. Divide it in spring or fall to control the size of these large perennials. One small plant will quickly become a statement plant in your border. But don’t let that deter your enthusiasm. Easy to grow, long lasting bloom and butterfly attracting make this a must have for the late summer border.
Another must have is sedum, particularly sedum “Autumn Joy” for it’s dark red blooms that last throughout the fall season. Popular to the point of overkill, sedums are hardy and easy to grow even for the most novice garden. The only piece of advice I have is to make sure that you split them every three years so that they don’t get top heavy. You might also want to branch out and try different varieties of autumn blooming sedum, such as a variegated leaf:
or other varieties like “Autumn Charm”, “Autumn Fire” or “Autumn Joy” - each full of red blooms.
Clematis “Sweet Autumn”
Although not a perennial, but a plant you will never regret planting – “sweet autumn” clematis adds so much interest to the fall landscape with it’s tiny white flowers that begin blooming in early September and continue right through to October. A prolific grower, this clematis grows up to 20′ high. We’ve planted ours along the fence separating the driveway and it’s grown about 8′ this year alone. It doesn’t need a lot of care other than to prune it back to about one foot in the late autumn or early spring. As it sets buds on late summer growth, controlling it’s mass during the growing season is simple enough to do by just cutting back out of control growth. I think this is my new favourite for the fall.
Colchicum (Autumn Crocus)
Not a crocus at all, colchicum strongly resemble the spring crocus in shape, size and the fact that they are bulbs. But that is the extent of their similarities as autumn crocus bloom in the late summer/early autumn on leafless stems about 3-5″ high. Plant them in July or August to have blooms in September. They need rich, fertile soil so they are the perfect plants for a partially shady woodland area in the garden – they prefer afternoon sun. Don’t cut any unsightly leaves back after they finish blooming, the bulbs need the nutrients from the leaves to ensure healthy plants next year. Divide every four years to ensure new blooms.
With a little planning, you can have a colourful garden right through till the heavy frost. Mums, sedums and others should be available now through to the end of September to plant this year. If space is an issue this year, just pop the plant (pot and all) into the border for instant interest. Then plant up later in the year when things have died back a bit and the border is more easily accessible.