I don’t know about you, but I was a late bloomer. I remember hounding my poor mother daily for a “training bra” and anxiously awaiting the day I would start menstruating. A few decades later, I couldn’t wait for it all to be over. Then, instead of moving on to a heavenly (and much deserved) phase of womanhood, I’m stuck in what I call the hot and dry spell. But I digress. Some late bloomers actually aren’t so traumatized, in fact when it comes to flowering plants, being a late bloomer is actually a good thing . . . Imagine that! Late blooming perennials start up when all other plants have wound down for the season, giving us another few months of color and texture before winter comes calling. Following are some reliable, long blooming plants to add interest during the season’s finale:
Anemone: Keep in mind that there are several forms of anemone; for example there’s Anemone blanda a low growing spring bloomer or Anemone hupehensis and hybrida, the taller (24″-36″) fall performers. I grow Anemone hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’, a gorgeous white flower with yellow center, complemented by lush foliage, and Anemone hupehensis ‘Bressingham Glow’ a darker pink bloom that looks perfect popping up in the middle of the garden. Both prolific in zones 5-7, in full sun to part shade.
Aster: Asters earn a home in many gardens because of their range of colors; from white and pale blue to bright pink and purple, and sizes from 12 inches to over 3 feet tall. For front of the border, try 18″ Aster novae angliae ‘Purple Dome’, which produces masses of rich violet-purple flowers. For a tall middle of the border plant, consider the 4 foot, hot pink stunner Aster novae angliae ‘Alma Potschke’. Both like well drained sunny locales in zones 4-8.
Chelone: Commonly known as turtlehead, this U.S. native is rugged and versatile. Capable of growing in clay to wet soil, full sun to part shade, and tolerant of drought, chelone provides great color to the late season garden in zones 4-8. Various cultivars grow on erect stems from 16 inches to 4 feet tall in shades of rosy pink, purple or white. Bees love them, too!
Clematis: A few of the late season clematis that hold off until summer’s end are the Japanese native, Clematis terniflora, commonly known as sweet autumn clematis, and the native woodbine, or Clematis virginiana. Both produce masses of fragrant white flower clusters, are easily grown in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade and can be pruned hard in fall after flowering or in early spring. Sweet autumn can grow to 30 feet in zones 5-9, while woodbine stays a bit smaller at 20 feet in zones 3-8.
Goldenrod: Don’t say it! I know you think I’m crazy mentioning solidago, but really, this plant gets a bad rap. Actually, for a sunny perennial border that needs some shimmery gold accents, I can’t think of a better fall comrade. Native to the U.S., solidago comes in dwarf sizes, such as 18 inch Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’, up to the 6 foot tall giant Solidago ‘Golden Wings’. And put away your tissue, it’s ragweed that’s affecting your sinuses!
Read more about Goldenrod
Helianthus: Commonly known as the perennial sunflower, helianthus are a cheery group of statuesque, lemony to golden yellow flowered beauties that grow under a series of tough conditions including drought and neglect. In fact, most prefer the latter. Many helianthus grow over 5 feet tall and bloom from July to August, but remember a past blog about pruning perennials? My Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, a goddess capable of towering over 7 feet, is presently a tidy 5 feet and loaded with blossoms that started the end of August (thanks to the pruning) and will easily last through September. Most are hardy in zones 5-9.
Heuchera: When we think of heuchera, we don’t usually think late bloomer. At least, I didn’t until I started growing the larger leaved native Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’. This mid-sized lady doesn’t even think of coming out of her shell until summer’s end, and then look out! Three foot tall ivory spikes gently sway over the foliage from late August through winter, adding another fine texture to the garden. Autumn Bride is a rare heuchera that can tolerate full sun (she may get a little wilted) as long as she is grown in moist, but well drained soil in zones 3-8.
See the beautiful Autumn Bride
Montauk daisy: A well recognized plant that is frequently used in public landscapes because of its minimal maintenance requirements and showy late season display. Often planted with shrubs or grasses, Nipponanthemum nipponicum is a great addition to any sunny garden setting zoned 6-9. Because nippon daisy blooms so late, it benefits from a hard prune in early spring and possibly another pinch the end of June to keep it tidy. The glossy oval leaves are a great asset to the perennial border even before it blooms.
Read more about the Montauk Daisy
Rudbeckia: Rudbeckia is a plant that deserves accolades for dependability and long season bloom, but that’s just the beginning. Rudbeckia also comes is a range of sizes (24 inches to 6 feet) and some variations of flower colors, although most are bright yellow. I grow Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ and the taller Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ (zones 4-9), which bloom from July through September before dropping their petals. Fabulous seedheads remain, providing food for birds through the winter months.
Russian sage: Perovskia atriplicifolia, commonly called Russian sage, appears similar in some ways to lavender, with its grey foliage and bluish-purple flower spikes born on stiff 4 foot stems. Perovskia prefers a hot setting in well drained soil and blooms all summer and into fall with an occasional pruning. A perfect critter resistant specimen for locations uninhabitable to many other plants, and great for massing in zones 4-9.
Sedum: To me, the word sedum means a versatile, long lived plant that offers oodles of seasonal interest no matter which one you choose. The lower growing forms stay evergreen all through the winter, some even changing color, like Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (zone 5-8), which is chartreuse green through summer and brilliant red through winter. Who needs flowers? But, if you do prefer blossoms, try the popular sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (zone 3-9) whose rosy blooms dry to a brick red and stand on 3 foot stems in the snow, or the many other choices now available.
Read more about Sedum
Vernonia: What is it about some of the late season bloomers and their incredible stature? Vernonia noveboracensis, commonly known as ironweed, is another one of those towering beauties that produces a rich, violet purple flower that is incredibly stunning to the late season border. A deep plum shade like this is uncommon no matter what time of year, but when blended with the golds and pinks of companion plantings, it is simply exquisite. Ironweed is a much loved native (by humans, bees and butterflies) that can reach over 6 feet tall in zones 4-8.
So, my friends, fall is a great time to buy as well as to plant. Sales abound, selection is still good, and temperatures are becoming more conducive to growing and outdoor activities. There are so many other choices of fall blooming perennials I didn’t list, but do grow, and are worthy of consideration as well: eupatorium, ligularia, mints, nepeta, phlox and roses. Whatever you choose, have fun and enjoy planting!