Add a Splash of Fall Color to Your Garden

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As autumn descends upon Lee County, many flower gardens are done putting on their show. It seems as though gardeners are worn out from the hustle bustle of spring and the heat of summer. Many gardens with fall color depend heavily on mums, sedum, and ornamental kale. These are all excellent choices, but what if I told you there were a number of other spectacular, easy-to-grow plants that will add a splash of color to your garden in the fall!

Many plants (but not all) that bloom in the late summer or fall are daisy-shaped. The ones I will present here are all perennials, meaning you plant them one year (in the spring or fall) and most of your work is done! After a few years, many perennials can be divided. So you can easily increase your plantings or have plant swaps with friends!

False aster (Boltonia asteroides), fleabane (Erigeron hybrids), and aster (Aster spp.) are all aster-like flowers that bloom in the fall. All of these plants prefer full sun or partial shade. False aster can get up to 6 feet tall with white, lilac, or purple flowers. Here in Lee County, site this one in partial shade and choose ‘Snowbank’ for a more compact plant that may not need staking. Fleabane is a very tough plant that will tolerate abuse and is easy-to-grow. The plant only gets about 2 feet tall and produces pink, lavender, or violet aster-like flowers. True asters vary widely in their heights, flowering time, and flower color depending on what species you choose. Be sure to pinch the plants in mid-summer to produce dense plants. Don’t pinch too late or you will decrease blooms.

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), as the name implies, has leaves that smell like anise or licorice. The leaves have medicinal and culinary uses. The plant thrives in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. The plant can get up to 5 feet tall with 3-6 inch spikes of purple, blue, orange, or red flowers. Hummingbirds and butterflies love the flowers of anise hyssop, but deer stay away.

Blazing star, or Liatris spicata, is a plant that is produced from an underground corm. Site this plant in full sun or partial shade where it will get up to 3 feet tall and produce long spikes of rose, lavender, or white flowers. These make wonderful cut flowers to enjoy inside too!

Are you looking to put some fall color in a shady location? Bigleaf goldenray (Ligularia dentata) loves the shade. This 3-4 foot mounding perennial will produce yellowish-orange daisy-like flowers. Some cultivars, such as ‘Desdemona’, have colored foliage too. Garden monkshood (Aconitum napellus) also prefers partial shade. This plant produces spikes of blue, violet, or cream hood-shaped flowers. If you have children around the house, avoid monkshood since it is poisonous. The last shade-lover I will mention is Kamchatka bugbane (Cimicifuga simplex), a wonderful choice for a woodland garden. Although it may take a few years to establish, the white bottlebrush flowers (up to 3 feet!) will delight you.

Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora) is an extremely vigorous vine that produces profuse amounts of small, white, vanilla-scented flowers. This plant seems to be one that people either love or hate. Be sure to cut back hard after flowering or in the early spring to help contain this beast!

A lovely grass selection for the fall is pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries). This native grass produces a pinkish inflorescence that resembles a cloud into October. You may see this plant along roadsides across the state, indicating its ability to grow in tough situations. In the late winter, cut the foliage back to the ground.

Fall can be a season of color. Proper plant selection and planning will ensure that you have a garden of color all year long. For more information on choosing plants with fall flowers, contact our Center at 919-775-5624.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.