University of Illinois Extension

In Praise of Fall Blooming Perennials

"While you may not be worried about having ample color right now, fall is just around the corner and gardens often need some help in the color department," said Greg Stack, U of I Extension horticulture educator.

"The go-to plant for fall color has been the chrysanthemum. While these provide color and are good, there are some other perennials to put on your shopping list."

Take time to walk around your favorite garden center and look for Japanese anemone, Liatris (gay feather) and Goldenrod. These perennials are not only dependable but are interesting for their flowers as well as foliage interest. In addition, they can help provide color for your garden from September to late October.

To start your shopping list off, consider Japanese anemone.

"To say that this perennial is one of the best fall blooming perennials is an understatement," he said. "This plant offers a presence in the garden due to its size (two to four feet tall) as well as its glossy foliage and abundant flowers. Most Japanese anemone flower from September until there is a severe frost depending on the cultivar. Flowers are single, semi-double or double and can range in color from pure white to pink to dark red. Flowers are daisy-like in appearance and are held well above the foliage so that once they start blooming they can't help but be noticed. "

Japanese anemone is at its best when given light shade and some protection from taller plants. They do well in average garden soil but need a spot where they have excellent drainage. While they will tolerate dry soil, flowers will be larger if given adequate water especially during dry periods. The use of a summer mulch is also suggested. Japanese anemone tends to be a slow starter in the garden but by the second season a very noticeable increase in size can be seen. If there is a drawback, it would have to be the plant's tendency to spread by underground rhizomes. They can tend to take over a garden if not occasionally reined in by cutting back the new plants coming up in the garden.

"Japanese anemone will also start to wake up and grow very late in the spring. So, be cautious about early cultivation until you start to see new growth," Stack noted.

Cultivars to look for include 'Honorine Jobert' that grows to three feet tall and has clear white flowers with yellow centers. 'September Charm' has rose peach flowers with yellow centers and grows three feet tall, and 'Pamina' produces lavender-rose semi-double flowers on three-foot tall plants.

Liatris or gayfeather (pictured below) is a prairie native that offers color in the late summer to early fall. This interesting upright plant produces a one to three feet tall spike of bright purple-pink or white flowers on top of a plant with narrow, fine textured, grass-like foliage.

"Liatris does best in full sun locations in soils that have excellent drainage," he said. "Because of its vertical upright habit it takes up minimal space in the garden and is a good plant to consider for small space gardens.

"Once established it is very drought tolerant. Unlike most spike flowers that bloom from the bottom up, liatris does just the opposite. It blooms from the top down making it a popular cut flower. You can actually cut a good portion off the top of the spike (about one-third) to enjoy indoors and the remaining flower head will continue to open and provide color to the garden. "

Cultivars to look for include 'Kobold' a short version of liatris growing to 24 inches tall with rose colored flowers. 'Floristan Weiss' growing to three to four feet tall and producing tall spikes of white flowers and 'Floristan Violet' growing three to four feet tall with spikes of rose violet flowers.

Goldenrod, considered a nuisance weed by some or a good looking prayer plant by others is another great fall blooming perennial to add to your garden shopping list. While it is given a bad rap for causing hay fever, it is not the bad guy, ragweed is.

"Goldenrod is reliable perennial that prefers full sun blooming from September to October producing rich yellow panicles of flowers," he said. "It is tolerant of most any type of soil but rich, fertile soils should be avoided as it causes the plant to produce loose, lanky growth."

Goldenrod can be either a clump forming plant or spreader. The latter will need attention to keep it from going into areas where it is not welcome. Most cultivars grow from 24 - 36 inches tall so are good for the middle to back of the border. Cultivars to look for include 'Crown of Rays' a compact plant growing 12-18 inches tall, 'Sweety' a dwarf variety growing 12 inches tall with lemon yellow flowers, 'Fireworks' a tall (three to four feet) variety and 'Wichita Mountain' that grows two to three feet tall and produces' spikes of flowers that look like liatris only yellow.