September 14, 2012

Five Fall Perennials to Plant Right Now

Japanese Anemone's add elegance and romance to the autumn perennial border.  Long-lived, this is the best time to find them at your local garden center.


Autumn in most gardens, is color deficient compared to spring displays of tulips, daffodils and pansies, but there is no reason why the fall border cannot be equally as impressive - and in many ways, it has to work harder to compete with foliage, pumpkins and yeah - hay bales. The main reason fall gardens are meh, is simple - most nurseries only carry spring blooming perennials and we generally only shop for plants in the first half of the summer. I think that it is time to upgrade the fall garden to look like this, right here - if you like foliage and berries, or like this, if you like these fall blooming Japanese anemones, then check out the ones in Robin Magowan's Conneticutt garden that we visited in 2009. His luscious planting or pink and purple Japanese anemone's will change how you think about fall perennials for ever.

 It seems that every autumn I try to convince you to try these plants, but the Japanese Anemone is one of the best performing garden plants we could ever plant, and I don't want you to miss out.  Mum's are fine fall plants, but there are so many other flowering plants which not only bloom during these last, short days of summer and autumn, but which are long-lived in the garden - take the Japanese Anemone, for example - so popular in early 20th Century gardens, but still uncommon in most fall borders.

Japanese anemone, once known as Anemone japonica, but reclassified as Anemone hupehensis var. japonica if you must know, are closely related to the Ranunculus, and really - who would not want a very ranunculussy-looking flower on gracefully long, wirey stems that can be 4 feet tall, in their garden in September? There are many cultivars from which to choose from, but unless you order them on-line, most are hard to find at typical American garden centers. More typically, only one or two varieties are carried commercially by any one retailer, but hunt them down, and divide frequently, for these are long lived plants and once established, can  produce a most magnificent display worthy of competing with any mum, hay bale and scarecrow that your crafty  neighbor may assemble. 


New Kniphophia are being introduced each year, with many now showing up in garden centers in the north - with some even available for Zone 5 gardens in the North Eastern US. My beauty above, a lemon-cream hardy Kniphophia is called 'Cool Knip', and it  is so hardy, that plants are thriving in Maine, and the Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens.  Look for it, but I will admit that it is still rather hard to find. My plants came from Ellen Hornig a few years ago, but now that her Oswego, NY nursery is out of business, I am looking for another source.  I like red Red Hot Pokers, but a creamy yellow one, in my mind, is even better. 


Chelone glabra, our native North American Turtle Head does indeed have flowers which look a bit like a turtles head, but this late summer wildflower makes an impressive show in the partly shady or damp perennial border. Often found along streams, or in old farm meadows here in New England, Chelone selections are common enough in most garden centers - just be sure to buy more than one plant, for like any perennial, the more you can plant in a setting, the better the show. Chelone has deep green foliage, and comes in two colors, pink, or white.  Another long lived perennial, the plant also blooms for a long period, often starting for us around mid-August, but not ending until frost ends the whole show in late October.



New England Asters are perhaps to most overlooked garden perennial, at least here in the United States, but in Europe, the plants and the many hybrids and selections have been a staple of those huge English borders for at least 200 years. The above species is a native form, growing in our woodland, but in the garden the show is just beginning to start. Look for deep purple, violets, bluish purple, magenta and hot pink varieties. 

Be careful about where you plant fall blooming asters though, because they can be tall growing, often reaching 6 feet  in our garden unless they are cut back early in the season. I happen to like them tall, but I have to stake my plants earlier in the year. A trim before the 4th of July will encourage side shoots, more flowers, and a denser plant, so you may wish to give them a 'hair cut'. It is sensible to stake all but the shortest growing varieties, as heavy autumn rains can turn a stiff cluster of plants, into an octopus in one night. Asters need to be divided every three years if you want them to retain their vigor, but all this really means is that you will soon have many plants to share, and who doesn't want that?


OK, technically this is a shrub - all in the family Ericaceae, but since we often see them sold in the fall with perennials, I will include them here.  Heather is definitely not a plant which you will want to plant singly. I plant mine in drifts in the perennial garden, and each year, the textures and colors of each variety seems to get better. Plus, heather provides a year-round display - one might argue that late winter is their best season. I prefer yellow foliage forms, as well as grey foliage forms. Most yellow or lime green varieties turn bright red or maroon in the winter, so the display is ever-changing. There are many cultivars and selections to choose from, and, they are easy to grow as long as you have an acid soil. They grow best in peat beds, or sandy acid soil, as we have here in New England, so if you can grow Kalmia, Mountain Laurel, Azaleas, Camellias or Rhody's, then you should be able to try a drift of the fabulous plants.  


If the jewel colors of late summer flowers are too dull, they can always be brightened up with a male Ruby Throated Hummingbird. First he visits a powderpuff flower - Calliandra californica, a potted dwarf tree that can make a great houseplant that will bloom most of the winter. It is waiting on the deck, to be moved in at the first sign of frost.

Salvia guaranitica and Ruby Throated Humming bird ( Archilochus colubris), getting ready to migrate south.

I picked our first dahlias today. I know, the colors are rather random, but I almost forgot to plant some this spring, so I had to settle for a sale pack of mixed colors, but I could not face another autumn without Dahlias!


  1. I love Japanese Anemone! I have Honorine Jobert. Also very fond of asters - New England Aster, but also Aromatic Aster and Short's Aster. Short's does well in shade and Aromatic in sun.kthruct

  2. Anonymous7:51 PM

    Hey, Matt,

    I'm growing 'Cool Knip'. I'm out for this year, but will have more for spring if you're still looking....
    Ed Bowen

  3. You want rare Pokers? Sequim Rare Plants is your online source. Otherwise, pay the VOT to import Cotswold Garden's pokers. I have 'Ice Queen' which I prefer for the green to yellow/white category.

  4. hopflower11:07 AM

    Definitely have some Japanese Anemone in my garden; both September Charm and the wonderful Honorine Jobert! They are in bloom and promising more right now.

  5. You've inspired me to do some planting this afternoon. I'd sure like my garden to have more flowers at this time of year.

  6. You've got me wanting to give Japanese Anemone another try--they look so fresh and verdant!

  7. Nice selections. On the Kniphofias - are those non-red varieties for longer bloom, or do they just bloom differently up there? Here, they are over by late May or mid-June.

    Great to see what others can do well!

  8. Desert - We do have some Kniphofia that bloom earlier - I am not certain about the name - one large variety that I bought two years ago in the standard red and yellow, blooms here around late June, and a miniature caramel colored one in mid July - I imagine that Cool Knip might have a higher elevation species in its background, but it blooms here just before frost, usually in September.

  9. Still in the heat of summer in Atlanta, but we're starting to see the signs of autumn, as well. The Tatarian Aster and Joe Pye Weed are going crazy here. Having lived in suburban Boston for many years, this is when I have zone envy....but it quickly disappears in January!


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