Walk into any garden center right now and about half the space is crammed by potted mums. Grumpy holds no grudge against mums – they're great in containers and make nice gifts. But year after year of buying nothing but mums is like eating a baked potato every night. The menu gets old.With that in mind, I present to you five outstanding perennials with lovely autumn blooms to spice up your garden and also attract butterflies and other pollinators. Look for them in garden centers and online.
Native to the central U.S., aromatic aster is the perfect foil for mums, as its blooms supply the blue and purple colors mums don’t. It gets it names from the pleasant scent emitted from its leaves when crushed. This plant forms a dense, tidy mound about two to three feet tall and wide. It blooms for weeks in fall in USDA Zones 3 to 8, unhindered by frost. Give it full sun and good drainage. Recommended selections: ‘Fanny’ (bright purple flowers with yellow centers), ‘October Skies’ (sky-blue), and ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ (bluish-purple).
Anyone need a fall flower for shade? Japanese anemone is the ticket. Wands of showy flowers rise two to three feet above tufts of handsome, basal leaves. Blooms flaunt bright yellow stamens circling a central green eye. Clumps slowly expand, but don’t take over. Give Japanese anemone light shade and fertile, moist, well-drained soil in USDA Zones 4 to 8. Recommended selections: ‘Honorine Jobert,’ (white, shown above), ‘Queen Charlotte’ (pink), Prinz Heinrich (rosy-red), and ‘September Charm’ (silvery-pink).
This Southwestern native does fall flowers one better. It starts blooming in late spring and continues nonstop through fall. It forms a rounded mound from one to three feet tall and wide. Copious blooms of red, pink, salmon, white, lavender, magenta, purple, and bicolors decorate foliage that remains evergreen in the warmer parts of the plant’s range. Give autumn sage full sun and well-drained soil. It takes heat and drought very well in USDA Zones 6 to 10. Trim it back by half in early spring before new growth starts.
If you think of grass as pretty drab stuff, you haven’t seen pink muhly grass glowing in the sun like a rock star in sequins. This native grass forms a mound of slender, upright leaves three to four feet tall and wide. In autumn, wispy, rosy-purple plumes float like smoke above the foliage. A border of it in bloom is stunning. It likes full to part sun and well-drained soil. Grow it in USDA Zones 5 to 9. Cut it back to near the ground in winter.
Do I have to say it again? Goldenrod does not cause hay fever! Some species can be weedy, but this isn’t one. Native to the eastern U.S., it becomes a well-behaved clump about three feet tall and wide that doesn’t spread by wide-ranging roots. It gets its name from the sprays of bright yellow flowers that literally explode into color in late summer and fall. Pollinators love it. ‘Fireworks’ thrives in full sun and well-drained soil in USDA Zones 4 to 9. Set some off today!