Fall Bloomers in the Garden

This was sent to me in an email and it has good information for fall bloomers in the garden! Enjoy!

 

Final Flourish
by Gene Bush – posted 08/15/11

Think about adding some of these underused fall-blooming beauties to your shade garden later this season. After the heat lets up a bit, you will want to get back out there and expand your season and plant palette.

Gardeners in this region tend to give up on gardening come mid to late July and into August. Still fewer gardeners are aware September, October and into November can be filled with flowers. The fact that fall-blooming flowers are not found more frequently is due more from an absence of information than a lack of performing plants.


Aster divaricatus‘Woods Purple’  
Aster divaricatus ‘Woods Blue’


Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’
Aster photos Courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

Gardening myths about lack of blooms in shade gardens during summer and fall are just that. Myths. Gardening references tend to switch over to evergreens, bark textures and various colors of berries with the mention of blooms sadly missing after September. Bark and berries are important for the backbone of a garden—to basic design—but blooms are what we gardeners truly desire.

Fall-blooming perennials are no more difficult to grow than plants blooming in spring or summer. If you have been successful with a bed, border or garden containing bulbs and perennials you can grow fall-blooming plants to perfection. The exact requirements concerning soil, moisture and sun or shade varies from plant to plant. In general, I begin with the classic “well-drained soil with plenty of humus and adequate moisture.” My next step is a good gardening encyclopedia or nursery catalog that gives tips and hints for success with each family of flowers and special needs for individuals within a family.

Since some of the fall bloomers are not as well known as spring bloomers, you might have to shop a bit to locate specific species or cultivars. A local nursery or catalog specializing in a full inventory of perennials is my first choice.

 

Asters (Aster species and hybrids)

Asters are well known, but to the best of my knowledge, sadly underused in local gardens for fall bloom. Since they are such a widely adaptable and easily grown plant, it is hard for me to understand why they are not used more often in gardens. Perhaps it is a case of familiarity breeds contempt for numerous species of asters decorate our fields, fence rows and woods during September and October. Asters are a must-have for middle to back of a border with its stately foliage and wide range of bloom color from all the new hybrids.

There are numerous species, hybrids and cultivars to choose from with a range in height from 18 inches to well over 6 feet. In decent garden soil, give them room—for they will form clumps rather quickly making for a large show. The taller species benefit from shearing or pinching back around June to make them more compact and fuller in foliage.

One of the features that makes an aster an aster is the yellow disk in the center of each ray of petals. Flower petal colors include blue, lavender, white, pink and red. Great drama in color combinations can be easily achieved by using goldenrods as companions with all their different shades of yellow.

 

 


Monkshood Aconitum napellus
Photo: iStock-© Anna Yu

Monkshood (Aconitum species and hybrids)

Monkshoods or aconitum are masters of the open shade garden in fall and early winter. Depending on the species or hybrid, you can have blooms from June through December.

Aconitum are easily grown to perfection in the Midwest when given three basic needs. Provide a good compost-rich soil dug relatively deep. Place them in all the light you can provide without full sun. Mulch around (but never over) the crown to retain moisture.

Almost all aconitum are tall and stately with a range in height from 2 ½ feet to more than 6 feet. The blooms have their top two petals fused together, which forms a helmet or hood shape that gives it the common names of helmet flower or monkshood. Blooms are numerous toward the upper third of the plant with most en masse at the top of the main stem. Colors can be white, rose, yellow and bi-color, but blue and lavender are the most common.

All aconitum are toxic to mammals and caution should be exercised. Use gloves when handling or planting.

 

 


Gentian saponaria 
Photo: Gene Bush

Gentian (Gentian species and hybrids)

My favorite fall-blooming flowers are gentians. Imagine, if you will, the red, brown and gold of falling leaves. Then picture rich green foliage decorated with masses of the most beautiful blue blooms. There are some 200 to 350 species of gentians around the world plus numerous hybrids. Among the fall bloomers are species growing wild in local woodland edges, fields and roadsides. Bloom shape can range from a bottle to crested trumpets. Size can begin at less than 1 foot to more than 3 feet in height. There are numerous gentians that begin blooming in September and October lasting into November.

The two most common species in the Midwest are the bottle gentians (G. andrewsii and G. saponaria). The common name comes from the resemblance in shape of the blooms to small bottles. I think they look like the old-fashioned Christmas tree lights with the rounded tips. The blooms do not fully open on these two species. Other easily grown gentians I enjoy are summer and fall blooming species and hybrids from Asia. Two species on the smaller size in foliage with large trumpet-shaped blooms are the G. paradoxa and G. septemfida or everyman’s gentian.

 

 


Tricyrtis ‘White Towers’
Photo: Gene Bush

Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis species and hybrids)

Toad lilies have been gaining popularity in the last few years. They originate from Japan, Asia and the Himalayas with about 18 species and many hybrids to choose from. There is a toad lily for every shade garden, since growth can range from 6 inches to more than 4 feet. Blooms can be upright cups to hanging bells and exotics resembling orchids in shape. Colors run most of the spectrum with rich buttery yellows to spotted bi-colors of lavender and pink. The individual species and hybrids chosen determines the period of bloom. It is possible to have a toad lily in bloom from June through the first hard frost. The blooms are frost sensitive so you will need to cover the plants if an early frost is forecast. One of my favorites for fall blooms in the shade garden is T. hirta x miazaka. This hybrid toad lily is one of the most graceful with its arching habit and height of about 2 feet. Be sure to place it on a raised bed near a path where you can see the blooms up close.

 


Hymenocallis occidentalis 
Photo: Gene Bush

Bulbs

There is a wealth of bulbs to choose from that will provide blooms from September into November. There are fall-blooming crocus and colchicum, which are often confused with the crocus. Several species and hybrids of flowering onion (Allium sp.) make gorgeous displays. The native spider lily (Hymenocallis occidentalis) is seldom seen and blooms about the same time as our resurrection lilies, or naked ladies. Hardy cyclamen are seldom seen in gardens and there are at least three species and their hybrids with some performing into December.

There are far too many flowers blooming during fall and into early winter to give up on gardening now.

 


Japanese anemone 
Photo: © justdahl – FOTOLIA


Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua speciosa)
Photo: Don Kurz

Fall-Blooming Perennials

•  Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis)

•  Hardy begonia (Begonia grandis)

•  Bluebeard (Caryopteris sp.)

•  Turtlehead (Chelone sp.)

•  Bugbane or Fairy candles (Actaea aka Cimicifuga)

•  Hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium)

•  Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium sp.)

•  Lobelia (L. cardinalis, L. siphilitica)

  •  Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)

 

 


Gene Bush is a nationally known garden writer, photographer, lecturer and nursery owner. Contact Gene at munchkinnursery.com.


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