Fall is finally on its way. Despite the general push to prepare for cold months ahead, some gardeners are plotting their next moves in the flower bed. Fruits and veggies may be packing it in for the year while certain flower species are ready to explode with color.
Call it a final salute to the growing season, or its own special time of year. Fall gardening is its own thing, and cool-weather-tolerant flowers do exist.
If you want to plant flowers this time of year, the trick is to make sure you’re picking the right species to survive the winter in your area. With the right timing and placement, fall-blooming perennials come back year after year to brighten your autumn landscape.
Here’s a quick list of perennial plants that love the cooler days and nights of fall — some that keep on going through the summer, and a few that save their beauty for this special season.
1. Purple Coneflower
One of the most recognizable native plants in North America, the purple coneflower is also known by a medicinal name: echinacea, which you’ve probably seen as an ingredient in herbal supplements. These ones are just for show, though, especially if you’d like to see lots of butterflies and bees in your yard. Spring planting is best, but early fall is OK, too. Make sure you plant well before the first frost to ensure a springtime return.
2. Balloon Flower
These cheerful-looking blooms are easy to grow with lots of sun and well-drained soil. Spring is an ideal time to plant, but the warm soil of early fall can work, too — you just might not get blooms for another year or so. They are resistant to disease and nibbling insects, fortunately.
3. Grecian Windflowers
These cuties come in multiple bright colors and are perfect for fall planting. They like to creep along the ground and form “mats” of pretty blossoms that pop out in late winter. A lovely way to brighten up the gloomy weather! Take note, however, that these windflowers are toxic, so don’t plant them where undiscriminating pets or kids could get hold of them.
4. New England Aster
New England asters are long and late bloomers, and should be planted as seeds in the spring or as fully grown flowers in the fall. These flowers are hardy in cooler temps. They’ll also bring friends to your yard in the form of birds, who enjoy the seeds, and pollinators attracted by their intense colors.
A perennial (ha) fall favorite, chrysanthemums, or mums for short, are wonderfully decorative in or outside the house. And fall is a great time to plant these fun-loving flowers. But take care when buying mums to plant — some varieties are annual, and not hardy enough to survive outdoors. “Garden mums” are meant to thrive in a flower bed. They like to keep their “feet” warm, though, so make sure to mulch as temperatures come down.
6. Autumn Crocus
The color is bold, but the plant is a little shy. Autumn crocuses grow low to the ground, making them a good choice to mix with flashier perennials like mums or asters. They’ll need to go in the ground soon, though, so they can get a bloom in before cooler weather prevails. The University of Wisconsin Extension suggests planting bulbs in a container in late summer, then sinking the containers in the ground to help these gorgeous guys survive winter.
Another autumn classic. Fall is the ideal time to transplant started hydrangeas since they’re entering a dormant phase and trying to save energy. Once established, they bloom from spring and into the fall, but be advised that they’re a little fussy. Some varieties like more or less sun, and all need plenty of water. Before you buy, make sure you’re in the correct USDA hardiness zone for the variety you’d like, and that you have space for the amount of sunlight they enjoy.
8. Sweet Autumn Clematis
First, the bad news: This easy-growing plant is a little too easy. It’s considered invasive in many Eastern states, as this New Zealand native can take over anything in its way. Also, it’s toxic if ingested.
Now, the good news! Sweet autumn clematis is lovely to look at, a deep-green vine studded with delicate white flowers. It’s known to smell nice, too. Plant it in the spring and watch the blooms appear as the weather cools — but only go for this one if you’re committed to limiting its spread. Your neighbors (and your other plants) will thank you.
Bright and beautiful peonies are a fitting send-off to summer.
In Late September and early October, you’re in a good window for planting peonies. But plan well: Peony plants can live for decades, requiring some thought about the spot they’ll inhabit. They like sun and well-drained soil, but they need a little space to avoid collecting mildew. Once they’re established, though, peonies get a little less picky and even more gorgeous.
10. Tropicanna’ Lily
Fight back against fall gloom with some “Tropicanna” lilies. As the name suggests, these huge, flamboyant flowers are a type of canna lily, with blooms sprouting from a leafy plant. These leaves are something else, though, displaying wild stripes that persist whether the plant’s flowering or not. Expect flowers to arrive in late summer — with prudent deadheading, they’ll keep blooming as long as it’s warm.
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