Plant Fall-Blooming Flowers for Seasonal Color

Extend your ornamental gardening season by designing a fall flower garden with plants that have unique seedheads and colorful foliage.

| Fall 2016

  • Pink petals of some Cosmos cultivars deepen in color every autumn.
    Photo by Terry Wild Stock
  • Pollinators adore purple coneflowers throughout their bloom time.
    Photo by bokstaz
  • Native grasses are mixed with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and black-eyed Susans along this welcoming stone path.
    Photo by Jerry Pavia
  • Black-eyed Susans and other perennials keep a garden in bloom late into the season.
    Photo by Jerry Pavia

When summer draws to a close, the gardens in my northern Minnesota (Zone 2) neighborhood start to look a little ragged. No wonder my spirits soar at the sight of fall-blooming flowers, such as the tall, bronze stems of Helenium, the purple stars of Aster, and the golden rays of Heliopsis and black-eyed Susans. Fall-blooming perennials, persistent and long-blooming annuals, gardening bushes, fast-growing shrubs, and the creative use of seedheads will add life to the flower bed, just as our enthusiasm flags with the season’s withdrawal to winter.

While his neighbors are busy composting and mulching-over their summer spreads, Greg Bonovetz’s Duluth, Minnesota, fall flower garden comes into its own every autumn. Bees buzz among the bright red blossoms of bee balm, and the sturdy stems of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) contrast with the fine flowers of drought-tolerant yarrow and the velvety leaves and trumpet-shaped flowers of Datura cultivars. White purple coneflower cultivars, such as ‘White Swan,’ blend with ‘Joan Senior,’ a cream-colored daylily that blooms for six weeks.

My eyes are quickly drawn to the fall flowers garden’s focal points. First, a tall obelisk covered with pink flowers and shiny foliage of a rocktrumpet vine makes a striking first impression. Second, spikes of an ornamental tobacco plant add a stately signature and a vertical accent. For a more subtle feature, ‘Stargazer’ lilies border another bed. Bonovetz says, “One of the reasons I plant true lilies is for the scent.” His other reason is the same one that I’m after every fall: “They look good when everything else is fading.”

Flowering Plants for Autumn

One way Bonovetz extends his ornamental gardening season is by choosing long-blooming annuals, such as pot marigold and cultivars of Geranium, Petunia, and Datura for his landscape design. It’s not all annuals for Bonovetz, but he usually keeps his perennials in containers, where they’re mixed with annuals. Landscape designer Ellen Zachos, who also makes ample use of containers on New York City terraces and balconies (Zone 7), agrees: “For most of my color, I rely on annuals, such as wishbone flower because so much of the root space in these containers is taken up by trees and shrubs.” Zachos’ favorite perennials are fan flower and drought- and pest-resistant lantanas. Zachos reports that her fan flowers bloom in New York until Thanksgiving and survive temperatures into the 30s. While invasive in some parts of the country, lantanas are a great annual when grown beyond their hardiness zone: They never self-seed, they’ll continue to do well without deadheading, and they’re sure to bloom until the season ends. For shadier terraces, Zachos uses wishbone flowers in lantanas’ place.

In my own garden, tall ‘Carmencita’ castor beans look almost tropical with their dark maroon, maple-like leaves and fuzzy red seedheads. The bright orange flowers of ‘Fiesta del Sol’ Mexican sunflower contrast nicely with the burgundy tassels of love-lies-bleeding and the airy stems and delicate lavender flowers of tall verbenas. Tall, pollenless common sunflowers, such as ‘Van Gogh’ and ‘Moulin Rouge,’ surround the vegetable garden, which I’ve found to be ideal for fall bouquets.

Jo-Anne van den Berg-Ohms, of John Scheepers, Inc. in Connecticut, has several favorite long-blooming annuals. “Cleomes are easy-growing, carefree flowers that can hold up to late summer heat spells and droughts,” she says. “Garden nasturtiums give an opulent lushness to the early fall garden when other plants start to look a bit tired.” Van den Berg-Ohms uses coleus, also known as painted nettle, to fill in containers, and she often grows ornamental kale to use as a fall replacement.



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