You live with your landscape 365 days a year. Why not get the most out of it?
"By using fall-blooming perennials, you can keep your landscape and garden interesting even during the cold months," says Dan Stearns, associate professor of landscape contracting in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
Most fall-blooming perennials are hardy, long-lived and come in vivid colors. They can be planted from spring until mid-October. The dried flowers and stalks also can remain in the garden during winter, adding beauty to the landscape and providing a feeding place for birds.
"Fall is a good time to purchase and plant these perennials because you can see what the flowers look like," says Stearns. "It's best to visit many nurseries so you can see a variety of fall-blooming plants. You're also more likely to find some unusual ones."
One of the most unusual fall-flowering plants is the toad lily, which thrives in partial shade and moist soil and produces clusters of orchid-like flowers covered with purple speckles. It blooms from late September until frost.
For daisy lovers, there's Chrysanthemum nipponicum, which is covered with yellow-centered flowers with white petals. "It looks very much like a shasta daisy," says Stearns. "It starts blooming in September and can be used to extend the daisy season."
Others are Japanese anemone, with large pink, reddish or white petals; woods aster, with a profusion of iridescent purple or pink flowers; false dragon's head, which resembles white or purple snapdragons; and Chrysanthemum pacificum, grown for its dusky green foliage trimmed with silver.
Many perennials provide added interest in the winter. From late July to mid-September, Russian sage produces spikes of fragrant purple flowers above silvery foliage. "When winter comes, the leaves and stalks bleach to a silvery white," says Stearns. "It looks great next to shrubs that have red berries."
Cultivars of wild goldenrod are extremely hardy and do well in partial shade and dry soil. In the fall, they're covered with golden-yellow flowers. After frost, the flowers turn fluffy white and later golden brown. They can be picked for dried arrangements.
A cultivar of Joe Pye weed grows four feet high with burgundy stems and dark green, leathery foliage. "It likes moist soil but will do fine in drier gardens," says Stearns. "The flowers are enormous, reaching eight to 10 inches across. They start out dusky purple and go through many color changes, staying attractive all winter long.
Sedums have long been used for their winter beauty. Bright pink, pale pink or reddish flowers form clusters up to six inches across. The stems and flowers turn tawny when cold weather comes.
Before buying perennials, prepare your soil by adding fertilizer, bone meal and organic matter. Plant the perennials in holes the same depth and width as the pots they come in and gently tamp the dirt around them. Mulching will hinder weeds and retain moisture.
"Perennials are hardy and can take a lot of weather extremes once they're established," says Stearns. "But they do need some care. Potted plants usually come with tags that give instructions about shade and watering requirements. It's important to water deeply or the roots will grow next to the soil surface and the plants will dry out quickly."
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