Plants for Jazzing Up A Yard With Fall Colors

Annette Ipsan
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Fall is often the garden's forgotten season. We spend so much time creating beauty from spring's first flowers to June's abundance that we forget how rewarding fall can be. The good news is that there are some wonderful plants that put on their best show between August and October.

First, go for the gold - or, rather goldenrod. All perennial Solidago varieties (not to be confused with sneeze-inducing ragweed) sport rays of yellow blooms until the first frost. Try the common knee-high cultivars or the spectacular 4-foot "Fireworks."

Brazilian verbena just keeps going and going, blooming right up to frost from its June beginnings. Purple clusters of tiny flowers dance in the slightest breeze atop 3-foot stems. I never cut this reliable perennial back because it looks lovely when capped with snow.

Purple coneflower also wins kudos for longevity. Bold rose blooms with domed seed heads sprout until the mercury crashes. This perennial favorite rewards you with winter interest plus plenty of seeds to delight the birds. For variety, try the white or yellow Echinacea cultivars.

From August to October, asters take center stage. Their billowy masses of tiny daisy-like blooms welcome bees and butterflies and invite cutting for bouquets. Asters are available in a rainbow of colors and heights from 8 inches to 5 feet.

Black-eyed Susan
Rudbeckia hirta

Our state flower, the Black-eyed Susan, is an autumn standout. Other members of the perennial Rudbeckia family such as the sulphur "Autumn Sun" and bronze "Rustic Colors" also add colorful footnotes. Remember to leave some stems standing to feed the birds.

Plumbago spotlights the bluest of blue blossoms from July to September and really outdoes itself with rich burgundy leaves in late fall. A dainty 8 inches high, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides is a wonderful addition to the perennial border.

Russian sage is a midsummer night's dream, sending up tall wands of lavender blooms that add height and drama to the fall perennial garden. Drought-tolerant and tough, this 4-foot beauty defines easy-care.

Could you have a fall garden without mums? Yes, but the neighbors would talk. Pompons, daisies and spoon-leaf varieties come in a dizzying array of colors from deepest burgundy to brilliant gold. Try Chrysanthemum "Sheffield Pink" in all its 3-foot glory for guaranteed "oohs" and "aahs."

Crape myrtle is a Southern standby with clusters of crinkled blooms in white, pink or lavender. Ranging from 3 to 30 feet high with impressive fall leaf colors, it adds stately charm to any garden. Plant it with protection from winter winds as it is unreliably hardy here.

Blue is prized in the garden and nowhere is it more lovely than on the shrub bluebeard (Caryopteris.) This study 5-foot shrub sports clusters of dainty blue flowers along its sweeping stems from July to October, attracting butterflies and bees.

Purple beautyberry is the most striking element in my fall garden. This 4-foot shrub sends out tiny violet blossoms in July, followed by purple berries that last through the winter. Sometimes difficult to find, Callicarpa dichotoma is definitely worth the effort.

Old-fashioned annual morning glories speak volumes in the autumn garden as they eagerly climb a trellis or cascade over a fence. For cottage garden charm from midsummer to frost, try the traditional "Heavenly Blue" or the many other pastel varieties.

For instant spark, add pansies to your fall garden. Myriad colors are at your fingertips as are many varieties that bloom and rebloom. A quick cutting often brings back blossoms in abundance to this delightful annual.

Turn up the color volume on your fall garden. Try some of the many perennials, annuals and shrubs and that shine against the spectacular backdrop of the changing seasons.

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