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Late season color: fall flowers brighten autumn landscapes.

AS SUMMER DRAWS TO A CLOSE, gardens can start to look a little ragged. No wonder my spirits soar at the sight of the tall, bronze stems of Helenium, stars of purple Aster and golden rays of Heliopsis and Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta). Fall-blooming perennials add life to the flower border when our enthusiasm is flagging and nature is heading into winter.

Greg Bonovetz's Duluth, Minnesota, garden comes into its own in autumn. Bees buzz among bright red blossoms of Monarda, and sturdy stems of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) contrast with ferny foliage and fine flowers of Yarrow (Achillea species) and velvety leaves and trumpet-shaped flowers of Datura. White Coneflowers blend with 'Joan Senior,' a creamy white daylily that blooms for six weeks.

A tall obelisk covered with pink flowers and shiny foliage of Mandevilla makes a striking statement, and spikes of Nicotiana sylvestris add a stately presence. Lilium 'Stargazer' border another bed.

"One of the reasons I plant Oriental Lilies is for the scent," Bonovetz says, "and they look good when everything else is fading."


Bonovetz extends his gardening season by using long-blooming annuals such as Geraniums, Marigolds, Petunias and Daturas and by mixing annuals and perennials in containers.

Landscape designer Ellen Zachos often gardens in Zone 7 on New York City terraces and balconies. "A lot of the work for my clients is in large containers," Zachos says, "and for most of my color, I rely on annuals because so much of the root space in these containers is taken up by trees and shrubs."


Among her favorite annuals are Scaevola aemula, Lantana camara and Torenia fournieri. Scaevola blooms in New York until Thanksgiving and will survive temperatures down into the 30s. While it is invasive in some parts of the country, lantana is a great annual when grown beyond its hardiness zone. It never self-seeds, continues to do well without deadheading and blooms until the season ends. She uses torenia, the wishbone plant, for shady spots.

In my garden, tall 'Carmencita' Castor Beans (Ricinus communis) look almost tropical with their dark maroon, maple-like leaves and fuzzy red seedheads. Bright orange Tithonia rotundiflora 'Fiesta del Sol' flowers contrast nicely with the burgundy tassels of 'Love Lies Bleeding' Amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) and airy stems and delicate lavender flowers of Verbena bonariensis. Tall 'Van Gogh' and 'Moulin Rouge' pollenless sunflowers surround the vegetable garden, ideal for fall bouquets.

Jo-Anne van der Berg-Ohms, of John Scheepers Inc. in Connecticut, has several favorite fall annuals. "Cleomes (Cleome hasslerana) are easy-growing, carefree flowers that can hold up to late summer heat spells and droughts," she says. "Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) give an opulent lushness to the early fall garden when other plants start to look a bit tired." Van der Berg-Ohms uses Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) to fill in containers, and she often grows ornamental kale to use as a fall replacement.


Some of my favorite perennials are just reaching their zenith in late summer and early fall. Ligularias (Ligularia dentata) fight up shady spots with their almost-black rubbery leaves and golden flower clusters. My favorites are 'Britt-Marie Crawford,' 'Desdemona' and 'Othello.' Feathery flowers of Western Meadow Rue (Thalictrum occidentale) provide a great backdrop for 'Bishop of Llandoff' Dahlia, with its dark purple foliage and deep red flowers. Spires of sweet-scented Black Snakeroot (Actea or Cimicifuga) pair well with chartreuse foliage of the biennial Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), and Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculm) is a magnet for Monarch butterflies.

In her southeastern Pennsylvania garden, Nancy Ondra, author of the book Fallscaping, relies on long-blooming perennials like Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum), Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) and perennial sages (e.g., Sage officinalis) that start flowering in summer and keep going into the fall and those like Asters (Asteraceae), Boltonias (Boltonia asteroides) and Joe-Pye weeds (Eupatorium purpurea) that rebloom in fall if you cut them back after their first round of summer flowers.

For more advice on selective pruning and pinching back perennials, see Tracy DiSabatoAust's book The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. Deadheading religiously also prolongs the bloom season of many flowers.

Ondra also likes Sedum spectabile, Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii) and Goldenrod 'Fireworks' (Solidago rugosa) because they start in late summer and keep going into autumn. For autumn foliage color, she suggests 'Angefina' Sedum, Tiarella and Heucheras. Both Ondra and Zachos mention Amsonia hubrectii with fine, threadlike foliage that turns brilliant yellow in autumn. Zachos plans to use it as a companion for Red Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa). She also likes Rex Begonias (Rex cultorum) for their dramatic leaves. She pots them up and brings them indoors at the end of the season.

One of Ondra's favorite tips is to wait until midsummer to sow or transplant annual flowers like California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica), Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) and Cleome so they will peak in early fall.

"These annuals, along with the later-flowering tender perennials, add a fresh look at a time when most people think of the garden as tired and fading," she says. "Another perennial that doesn't come into its own until late September or early October is Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha)."

Grasses, vines and seedheads

Ornamental grasses are in their full glory in fall, adding texture and motion to the scene, and many can be left standing for winter interest. With colors of russets, gold, yellow and straw, they are especially effective backlit by the sun when it's low in the sky.

Vines aren't to be dismissed. Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) covers our greenhouse in the fall with its deep orange to purple leaves. Other vines to consider are Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) for its bright orange berries, Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora) that blooms late with fragrant white flowers, and 'Dropmore Scarlet' Honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) that blooms all season with orange blossoms. Attractive annual vines include my favorite 'Heavenly Blue' Morning Glories (Ipomoea violacea), Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpureus) with its clusters of purplish-pink flowers and flat, deep purple seedpods, Passionflower (Passiflora incarnate) and Cathedral Bells (Cobaea scandens).

Noel Kingsbury's book, Seedheads in the Garden, demonstrates the role seedheads play in the late summer as a backdrop for fading flowers, a companion for grasses and native plants and a contribution to wildlife. Think Rugosa Rose Hips, 'Black Pearl' ornamental peppers, flat saucers of Achillea, cocoa-colored cones of Rudbeckia (Rudbeckia hirta), bluegreen poppy pods, and the seedpods of Lovein-a-puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum) and Love-in-the-mist (Nigella damascena).



In northern hardiness zones, tropicals take time to mature, but they are always worth the wait. Tall Canna Lilies, like 'Pretoria,' with striped leaves, water-loving elephant ears (Colocasia and Alocasia) like 'Black Magic,' Caladiums (Caladium bicolor), Ornamental Bananas (Musafolia), Cordyline, Agave, Hibiscus and Brugmansia provide a touch of paradise.

Trees and shrubs

Northern Minnesota is known for its brilliant fall color, and we're fortunate to have maples, oaks, poplars, birches and dogwoods on our property. The assortment turns our woods into a kaleidoscope of colors from yellow to orange to red to deep purple. In addition to their dazzling foliage, many trees and shrubs, including Dogwoods (Comus), Elderberry (Sambucus), Viburnum, Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Sumac (Rhus typhina) and Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), have attractive berries that feed birds through the winter.


Michigan landscape architect Maureen Parker favors Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), 'Pinky Winky' Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) and 'Tiger Eyes' Cutleaf Sumac for fall color. A particular favorite of Ondra's among the late-flowering trees is Seven-sons Flower (Heptacodium miconoides) for Zones 4 through 8.

"Its clustered, creamy white, fragrant blooms open in late summer to early fall" she says. "After they drop, the remaining flowerlike calyces turn bright reddish-pink, making it look like the tree is blooming for a second time through the fall months."

Zachos recommends 'Kousa' Dogwood because it has large fruit, great reddish fall color and is less prone to anthracnose disease than native dogwoods. She also likes the Sourwood Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)--a small Zone 5 tree with beautiful white flowers in the spring and vibrant red foliage in fall--and Redbud for its bright yellow leaves.

With such a variety of plant choices and techniques available to prolong the gardening season, there's no need to despair when fall rolls around. Start looking at your landscape with new eyes, and you'll see beauty all around as you take care of fall chores.







Scaevola aemula

Lantana camara

Torenia foumieri

'Carmencita' Castor Beans (Ricinus communis)

Tithonia rotundiflora 'Fiesta del Sol'

'Love Lies Bleeding' Amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus)

'Van Gogh' & 'Cinnamon Sun' Sunflowers

Cleomes (Cleome hasslerana)

Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus)

California Poppies (Eschsholzia californica)

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus)

Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)

Ornamental Kale (Brassica oleracea)


Ligularias (Ligutaria dentate)--'Britt-Marie Crawford; 'Othello; 'Desdemona'

Anise Gyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

'Bishop of Llandoff' Dahlia

Black Snakeroot (Actea or cimicifuga)

Feverfew (biennial) (Tanacetum parthenium)

Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum)

Coreopsis lanceolata

Asters (Asteraceae)

Boltonia asteroides

Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)

Sedum spectabile

Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii)

Goldenrod 'Fireworks' (Solidago rugosa)

Sedum 'Angelina'

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)



Amsonia hubrectii

Rex Begonias (houseplant) (Rex cultorum)

Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha)

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbekia hirta)

Glove Thistle (Echinops ritro)


Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

Sunflowers (Helianthus





Hakonechloa macra


Maples (Aceraceae)

Oaks (Quercus)

Poplars (Populus)

Birches (Betula)

Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana)

Seven-sons Flower (Heptacodium miconoides)

Sourwood (Oxydedrum arboreum)

Redbud (Cercis)


Dogwoods--'Kousa; red-twig, pagoda (Comus)

Elderberry (Sambucus)


Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)

Hydrangea paniculata 'Pinky Winky'

Cutleaf Sumac 'Tiger Eyes' (Rhus typhina)


Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus qbinquefolia)

Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora

Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)

Honeysuckle 'Dropmore Scarlet' (Lonicera nitida)

Morning Glory 'Heavenly Blue' (Ipomoea violacea)

Hyacinth Bean 'Ruby Moon' (Lablab pupureus)

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnate)

Cup and Saucer Vine/Cathedral bells (Cobaea scandens)


Rugosa Rose Hips

'Black Pearl' Ornamental pepper (Capsicum annuum)

Achillea Rudbekia hirka

Popy seedheads

Love-in-a-puff (Cardlospermum halicacabum)

Love-in-the-mist (Nigella darnascena)


* REMOVE ALL SPENT FLOWERS religiously to prolong bloom time.

* USE LONG-BLOOMING ANNUALS like Geraniums, Petunias, Marigolds or Daturas.

* GROW ORNAMENTAL KALE as a fall replacement for worn-out summer plants.

* CHOOSE PERENNIALS THAT REACH THEIR ZENITH IN LATE SUMMER and early fall like Ligularias, Snakemot, Anise Hyssop, purple coneflower and Rudbeckias.

* GROW LONG-BLOOMING PERENNIALS like Shasta Daisy, Coreopsis and perennial Sage that keep blooming into the fall.

* CUT BACK PERENNIALS like Asters, Boltonia and Joe-Pye weed after their first round of summer flowers.

* PLANT FLOWERS like Sedum spectabile, Monkshood and Goldenrod that start in late summer and keep going into autumn.

* MIX COLORFUL FOLIAGE PLANTS like Coleus and Rex Begonias into your plantings.

* WAIT UNTIL MIDSUMMER TO SOW OR TRANSPLANT annual flowers like California Poppies, Cosmos and Cleome so they'll peak in early fall.

* DON'T OVERLOOK GRASSES, vines and seedheads for added interest.

* BE PATIENT WITH TROPICALS that take time to mature in late summer and early fall.

* CHOOSE TREES AND SHRUBS, not only for their flowers and fruit, but for fall foliage colon


FALLSCAPING Nancy J. Ondra and Stephanie Cohen, Storey Publishing, 2007

LATE SUMMER FLOWERS Marina Christopher, Timber Press, 2006

SEEDHEADS IN THE GARDEN Noel Kingsbury, Timber Press, 2006

Margaret Haapoja keeps the color in the fall garden at her home in Bovey, Minnesota.
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Title Annotation:Sow Hoe
Author:Haapoja, Margaret A.
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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