By Amanda Strack, Conservation Garden Park
Fall is one of my favorite times of year. The weather is starting to cool down, leaves are starting to change colors, and the days are feeling shorter. In the garden, many plants are done blooming and are slowing down after the busy summer months which means they will require less water and maintenance. However, many grasses are blooming and the crisp air creates a calm landscape environment where the late bloomers can truly shine. Fall blooming perennials are not only important for the color and interest they provide, but also for the food they afford for migrating hummingbirds and late foraging insects. A garden is genuinely incomplete without a few of these magnificent late bloomers. Here are a few of my favorites:
Helianthus salicifolius ‘First Light’- The common name is ‘First Light’ Willowleaf Sunflower. As the name suggests it is a plant in the Sunflower family. The flowers have the typical characteristics of a sunflower, yellow ray flowers with a black center. This plant can grow up to 4 feet tall and blooms from September to October. It looks beautiful when grown next to grasses so their simultaneous blooms create a serene setting. The seeds of this beautiful plant will provide a healthy supply of food to the local birds- a win/win.
Salvia reptans ‘P016S’ – This plant is better known as West Texas Grass Sage or Autumn Sapphire Sage. It was originally collected from the mountains of West Texas but thankfully does well in our area. The gorgeous cobalt blue flowers on this plant can be a beautiful backdrop to the western garden. It grows up to 4 feet tall and like the name suggests it is topped with sapphire blue flowers. The fine textured foliage gives the grassy appearance which provides not only color but structure as well. It prefers full sun, requires little water and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
Helianthus maximiliani ‘Santa Fe’ – The Santa Fe Maximilian Sunflower can be one of the last plants to bloom in the garden but it can also be one of the showiest– and at nearly 8 feet tall, among the tallest too. The tightly packed flowers are on the top 3 feet of the plant which create a yellow cloud of color in the landscape. This plant naturalizes readily so use it in an area where you don’t mind it spreading and creating a tall hedge. To discourage leaning, cut the leggy stalks back early in the summer.
Clematis terniflora – Sweet Autumn Clematis not only is a late blooming vision but it’s fragrant flowers are intoxicating. It has soft leaves and star shaped flowers that bloom from September to October. The flowers are so abundant that whatever trellis or arbor it is growing on will disappear for the duration of time it is flowering. It can grow up to 20 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It grows well in full sun/part shade and has been reported to tolerate heavy shade as well.
As the growing season is winding down for some plants, it is just the beginning for others. A well planned garden will include some of these late blooming perennials for not only their color but also for their function as a great food source. For more fall favorites, check out our blog: http://conservationgardenpark.org/blog