Category Archives: Fall Interest

what’s in bloom in fall

The Late Asters that should be in your Garden

Symphyotrichum x Bill’s Big Blue’

Years ago, the only fall asters that were commonly available at nurseries were cultivars of New England Asters: ‘Purple Dome’,  ‘Alma Potschke’  and ‘Wood’s Blue’. I have to say they have regularly disappointed me…by the time they came into flower their lower leaves would turn brown and look so tarnished.  I learned that their “ugly legs” could be disguised by planting behind another plant so you only viewed the flower heads. These New England Asters bloomed in early-mid September and by this time of year (mid October) the show was over.

Over the years, I have discovered there were so many other showy asters to try,  including many other native species.  Some didn’t begin their show until mid October,  plus they did not suffer the “ugly legs” syndrome. (Light frosts were not a problem.) Let me talk up a few.

Symphyotrichum ‘Bill’s Big Blue’

Consider Symphyotrichum (Aster) Bill’s Big Blue’, a “nativar” selected by a CA nurseryman years ago.  It may take a year or two to achieve its capable height of 5′, but here it is in the latter half of October, billowing forth over a stone wall. (Blue is sometimes tricky to capture in photos, and it is actually more blue in person). The bumbles and honey bees are enjoying its late display.

Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

I’ve written about Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’, a small flowered October into November bloomer, in an early post.  1″ violet blue flowers appear in profusion on 18-24″ tall plants and please the bees too! Take note that this Aster spreads, so use it where a useful, late blooming groundcover will complement some brilliant fall foliage.

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindaii’

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’  is another late bloomer that reaches a 3-4′ height. Distinctive large tobacco-like basal leaves give rise to tall sturdy stems bearing clusters of periwinkle blue  flowers with abundant pollen. Plants do spread where happy, so pair with sturdy partner plants.

Symphyotrichum ‘October Skies’

The native Aromatic Asters, Symphyotricum oblongifolius ‘October Skies’, and the slightly taller  ‘Raydon’s Favorite’  are becoming better known. One would easily overlook them in the nursery yard in spring as their foliage doesn’t command attention.  Come October, however, and look again…the plants are literally covered with 1 1/2″ blue flowers.  They also have good drought tolerance and are pollinator friendly.

Are you growing any late blooming Asters that should be in everyone’s garden?

Two Time Tested Groundcovers To Try

Some of you will remember that many (20+) years ago, there was a wonderful specialty nursery on the West Coast called Heronswood. Heronswood Nursery turned us on to so many great new plants! Yes the climate on Bainbridge Island was much milder than ours here in zone 6, and some of their offerings would not survive our cold winters. Still there were plant discoveries that could.  One was this evergreen ground cover commonly known as Silver Veined Wintercreeper, (Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’).

We’ve had this planted for decades in a spot with only a few hours of sunlight. Here it has gracefully spread and spilled over a low retaining wall. Plants do not get much taller than 8-10″ but can cover an area as the stems might root along as they touch the earth. It is known to be hardy in zones 5-9, and is adaptable to part sun or shade plus it is disliked by deer.

Sedum sichotense

Another ground cover we have enjoyed in our garden for years is Sedum sichotense. (now reclassified as Phedimus sichotense). Low growing (under 4″) but ever spreading, it is a superb choice for dry soil in full sun. The green narrow serrated leaves add  textural interest, but what is most exciting is the foliage turns to shades of brilliant red in the fall .

Fall color starting to turn red

Sedum sichotense gets clusters of starry yellow summer flowers that are favored by bees. It is native to a part of Russia we’re told and  is hardy in zones 4-9.  And yes, it is deer resistant.

Buy Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost online

Buy Sedum sichotense online

Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red’

Are you looking for something different for a fall display in your containers? Check out Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red’...it celebrates autumn with multitudes of dark orange flowers, and can, if brought indoors and kept in a sun filled space, will continue to carry on the show.

We grow a number of Abutilon selections  in containers which we bring indoors once the cold sets in, but if we were asked which  form to grow,  Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red‘ tops the list. It stays bushy and compact  ( it has A. megapotamicum in its lineage) when grown in 4-6 hours of sun and blooms continuously  with the biggest show in late summer and fall.  We have been caught off guard when a frosty night  has brought temperatures below 32F, and  found that  ‘Dwarf Red’  came through unfazed.

Some things to know about Abutilon. It is  commonly known as Flowering Maple,  and is a semi-tropical shrub with lovely pendant bell-shaped flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds. The flower display can continue year round when grown in bright light and temperatures above 45F, but in our experience,  the flower display in autumn is most generous. Often listed as winter hardy in zones 9-10, we have been hearing that hardiness in zones 7b-8 is not unheard of when plants are grown in a protected spot with good drainage.

CARE: Abutilons like to be fed regularly for good flower output  We use a fish emulsion/seaweed blend (Neptune’s Harvest 2-6-4 blend) every 2 weeks. allow the soil to become somewhat dry between waterings.   Purchase online.

Other posts discussing fall containers:

Rethinking fall containers

Plectranthus ciliatus

End of the Season Container Reports

A Versatile Fall Aster

Heath Aster planted itself in the dappled shade of our oak tree.

I take no credit for planting the occasional surprise of native Symphyotrichum ericoides (heath aster) in our gardens…they just appear and often in just the right spot. Unobtrusive all summer, but a delightful accent when flowers form in mid-September, Heath Aster presents 1-2′ stems bearing hundreds of tiny white daisies with yellow centers, creating a frothy foam in both sunny and even somewhat shady areas.

Synphyotrichum ‘Bridal Veil’…a Chicago Botanic Garden Introduction. ( image courtesy of CBC)

There are selected forms out there….‘Snow Flurry’ stays quite low at  6-8″ with 2′ branches that hug the earth, making it a useful native ground cover for the edge of a border or in the rock garden. A new selection ‘Bridal Veil’, introduced by the Chicago Botanic Garden, is believed to be a naturally occurring cross of ericoides and “?”. It produces strong 2′ arching stems with copious amounts of blossoms and forms vigorous clumps.

All forms of Heath Aster prefer well-drained soil and are quite drought tolerant once established. As I mentioned we’ve had plants pop up in even shady situations, but I think you get more flower power with full sun. Deer resistant and pollinator-friendly and hardy in zones 5-8…yay!

Two Plants to add a little Fall Excitement

All summer long Plectranthus ciliatus masquerades as a khaki-colored Coleus. Come early autumn, all of a sudden floral spikes extend and open up into chunky spires of lavender-blue flowers.  It does need to be protected from frost. but we’ve solved this problem by covering plants with a blanket on those pre-Indian Summer nights when the temperatures dip. Easy peasy to grow indoors for the winter, as it can get by with indoor lighting.

Folks always admire this succulent Senecio early in the season for its display of blue-gray tufts of foliage. However, when late summer rolls around flowering stalks emerge and open up to showy 1″ red-orange buttons. Use Senecio ‘Blazing Glory in a pot by itself or mix with other succulent goodies. Yes, it is a plant that needs protection from frosts., but it is super easy indoors on a sunny window sill.

 

Heptacodium miconoides

Our theory is, if a plant looks fantastic in the September garden, it merits attention. And if it is attractive to pollinators, has winter interest, grows quickly to a reasonable size and is easy to keep happy, then you should absolutely consider finding a spot for it. As I was driving though our little town of Dartmouth the other day, I had to pull over when I saw a picture perfect candidate of such a plant, Heptacodium miconoides, gracing a small streetside garden.

Heptacodium miconoides, or “Seven Son Flower” is relatively new in cultivation here in the US, having come ashore from China in the 1980’s. It bears attractive green foliage, resembling peach leaves, and finally in late summer and early fall, it produces panicles of fragrant, jasmine scented white flowers, which last for a couple of weeks, after which showy rosy red bracts remain. The common name “Seven Son Flower” refers to the 7 branches of blossoms of each panicle. We acquired our first specimen as a plant dividend at the Arnold Arboretum’s Fall Plant Sale in 1989. To our delight, it grew quite quickly, putting on as much as 3′ in a season. We learned after a bit that Heptacodium wants to be a multi stemmed shrub, unless pruned to one or several strong leaders. Our preference was to show off the handsome exfoliating bark, so we removed all but the strongest 3 trunks. If you would prefer to have a single trunk, select a young plant and stake one stem for straight growth.

Heptacodium merits attention for its adaptability to a variety of soil conditions, including soils that remain dry for some time, although occasional supplemental watering wouldn’t hurt. It is tolerant of salt spray, making it useful near the seashore. Other big plusses: Heptacodium is deer resistant, and the butterflies and bees absolutely love the blossoms. Provide it with lots of sunshine. Pruned as a small tree it can be the focal point of a small garden, or planted en masse it would make a showy hedge. It’s perfectly hardy in zones 5-8.

 

Vernonia x ‘Southern Cross’

Do you have room in your garden for a late summer/early fall blooming perennial that attracts butterflies galore? This Ironweed has dreamy clouds of composite purple flower clusters on sturdy stems 3-4’ tall beginning in August and its handsome narrow foliage looks fresh all season long. Discovered by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennials, ‘Southern Cross’ obviously has the species lettermannii in its heritage. This selection combines beautifully with ornamental grasses such as Sorghastrum, Schizachyrium and Eragrostis.

‘Southern Cross’ appears to like extra moisture the first season but becomes more drought tolerant once it is established. Plants are hardy in zones 4-8 and should be deer resistant.

Buy online

Generous Fall Asters

Symphyotrichum (Aster) ‘Vasterival’

Some might consider the term “generous” a euphemism for invasive…but I have my own take on certain vigorous spreaders and self sowers. I say, sometimes a plant with ground covering capabilities is a good thing…it won’t be long before you have a nice swath of color plus the plant’s vigor keeps weeds at bay. Here are 5 Asters that command attention and are easy peasy.

( A little botany note: The taxonomists have reclassified Aster  into several distinct genera in recent years. For example, the genus Aster encompasses species that are specific to Eastern Asia, while the term Symphyotricum includes Asters native to N. America and parts of Europe.)

One plant that really draws comments in our September garden is  Symphyotrichum x ‘Vasterival’, a hybrid of unknown origins. 3/4″ daisies in a  sweet shade of pink/lavender are born in loose sprays on tall dark tinted stems. You could  pinch plants back in early July to control height, or let them do  their thing, and have stems that can reach 5′. ‘Vasterival’ is a perfect plant for that “garden gone wild” look. Plants spread by stoloniferous roots.

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Symphyotrichum x ‘Mary’s White’

Another Symphyotrichum selection that has proven quite vigorous is ‘Mary’s White’, which was selected by British nurserywoman Beth Chatto and named for her daughter. 1″ white daisies are carried on sturdy 3-4′ stems during September into early October.

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Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Muraskai’

The Asian Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’ is the boss in a bed where we once had  plants with meek dispositions. We  let ‘Ezo Murasaki’ fulfill its ground covering mission, and moved its less vigorous neighbors. Yellow centered violet 1″ daisies are born in  clusters on 18″ stems from late September into November.

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Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’

Some Asters self sow nicely.  Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’, commonly called Smooth Aster, is one we allow to seed about and establish informally in beds where a little autumn color will be welcomed. Quarter sized flowers have lavender blue petals with yellow centers open up in stages in loose sprays. ‘Bluebird’ grows 3-4′ tall, but bows gracefully around its neighbors.

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Symphyotrichum ericoides with Elscholtzia and Kolwitzia

Another promiscuous seeder is the Calico Aster Symphyotrichum ericoides. Height can vary, but most often  plants are in the 18-24″ range. Don’t you think this Aster picked the best spot to establish itself, here between the Chinese Mint Shrub, Elscholtzia stantonii alba, on the left, and the golden leaved Kolwitzia on the right?

 

Tips for Fall Containers

Black Mondo Grass with hardy succulents

Are your summer planters in need of a fall makeover?  Are you thinking you would rather invest in perennials than toss away non hardy plants at season’s end? There are many fall-flavored hardy plants which will provide you with texture, form and long lasting colorful foliage. Plants to consider include Ornamental Grasses, Ophiopogon, Succulents, Heuchera, Euphorbias, Ivies, Dwarf Evergreens, to name a few.

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Heuchera ‘Caramel’ with Orange Sedge, Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow, and Purple Tradescantia

  • Here are a few tips.
  • 1. To achieve a fuller affect, use more plants than you would in the spring or early summer.  We don’t want to think about this now, but the days have been getting shorter, nights cooler, and plant growth is slowing down or ceasing.
  • 2. Select plants that have a variety of tones that will contrast and set off each other, (think amber Heuchera and black Ophiopogon).
  • 3. Remember a pot of mums looks fresh for 3-4 weeks at most, then the show is over. Showy foliage will carry on and on.
  • 4. Note that the fall foliage on evergreen Sempervivum (hens and chicks), Sedum ‘Angelina’, and Sedum album cultivars change and develop more dramatic color once the temperatures stay cool.
  • 5. If you must have flower power, consider long and late blooming Salvia, Cuphea, or fall pansies.
  • 6. When a night time temperature drop is forecasted, have light blankets, large pots or even an empty trash barrel handy to cover your container and protect the plantings from frost.
  • 7. As November passes, the time will come to  disassemble your planter. Tuck your hardy plants in a nursery bed or empty space in your vegetable garden plot to hold them over until next spring.
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Cuphea ‘David Verity’ with Heuchera ‘Champagne’ and Oxalis

From my window…

2016_nov_16outmywindow2webI love an autumn that lingers, that gently let’s go of leaf and blossom, that holds onto color made more vivid against a changing gray sky. A day or two or three of mild temperatures can make us forget that the naked garden of December and January awaits.  Right now I am enjoying this picture from my window, as it about to change, and yet will continue to offer interest in the cold months ahead.

What do you see when you look out your window? Are you pleased with your view? Does it include evergreen plants which add bold mass and keeps some color happening? Is there a nicely pruned tree whose silhouette can show off the tracings of winter snow? And do you notice branches that take on red or gold or purple pigments when temperatures drop, adding subtle hues, (but color nonetheless).

Do your plantings also invite the activity of birds? Will you catch the scarlet flash of a cardinal, who finds refuge in a dense evergreen, or the business of chickadees, who flit from one branch to the next, waiting for safe moments to descend upon the feeder.

From my window, the Hinoki Cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa compacta, provides a dark green screen from the road, and the winterberry, Ilex verticillata, adds brilliance for at least another month. The Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ will let go any day now, but we’ll suspend a feeder from its branches for the birds. The Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra, will change from gold to tan. And then in late winter, the scene will flush anew reminding  me that spring is on its way, with color from early bulbs and Hellebores.

What plants are your favorites for winter interest?