Fall is such a wonderful time of the year with the changing of the seasons, perfect temperature to be enjoying working or playing outdoors, and flashes of color we haven’t seen all year. Besides the turning of tree leaves into an array of hues ranging from yellow, orange, red, brown (yes, brown is a color), and everything in between, many flowering plants hit their floral stride at this time of year.
Shorter days and long nights trigger plants to flower whose reproductive clocks are triggered by the lengthening of the night period. Holiday flowering plants like poinsettias and kalanchoes are classic examples of photoperiodic (the fancy term for short day plants) plants. Chrysanthemums are one of the most popular fall bedding plants which burst into bloom at this time of year.
I really love the color combination of 3 fall-blooming perennials displayed in Heritage Rose Garden. In front of the bed is a mass of ‘Country Girl’ chrysanthemum, a long-lived, well-adapted garden mum for our area, with masses of light pink flowers with a yellow center. ‘Country Girl’ is also known as ‘Clara Curtis’, and is most likely the same variety. It has a lax growth habit, and spreads nicely, making a nice green groundcover which bursts into color each fall.
Behind and mixed in with ‘Country Girl’ is a purple fall aster. The color combination is outstanding, and bloom time for both plants is almost always very well synchronized. When plants usually flower is something to think about when planning blooming displays if you are hoping various types of flowering plants will bloom and display complimentary colors at the same time of year.
In the back of this display is the taller Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha), blooming with long spikes of contrasting purple and white flowers.
Many fall bloomers provide nectar source for pollinators, including all types of bees, wasps and other insects. I was really impressed with a Cuphea, or Firecracker or Cigar Plant, in the field trials at Overton this week that was literally covered with both blooms and honeybees. This stocky (2’ x 2’), new Proven Winners variety is called ‘Vermillionaire’, and made an impressive display with its tubular orange flowers. This annual blooms all summer, but was even more impressive in the field this fall. Like all Cupheas, it is very tolerant of heat and drought, once established.
Some salvias, like the Mexican Bush Sage mentioned earlier, only bloom in the fall, but they are worth the wait for their flower power. The Golden Leaved Pineapple Sage, also called ‘Golden Delicious’ (Salvia elegans), is one of those that makes a striking statement in the garden. It has chartreuse leaves most of the year, and in fall the foliage is topped with contrasting bright, scarlet red spikes of tubular flowers. Honeybees and bumblebees also love this plant, which is classified as a tender perennial, but has reliably returned in my garden for several years.
For part or mostly shade, Butterfly Ginger (Hedychium coronarium) is a winning fall blooming plant, both for its pure white blooms and the intense fragrance they emit. Gingers grow and spread on shallow rhizomes, and will expand their territory, so place them in the landscape where they will not bully out nearby lower-growing plants.
Another fall bloomer for shady gardens are the toad lilies (Tricyrtis spp.), with unusual purple spotted, orchid-like flowers along shoots or flower spikes. While they do not scream for attention, they are showy and a reliable plant for subtle color in the shade garden. Plant them along a woodland walk or wall or slope where they can spill down and be enjoyed.