Lush And Lasting Late-Season Color For The Garden

Paint the late-season garden with radiant blooms and lush foliage to rival that of autumn trees.  

Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Photo: Roger Foley

As summer winds down and autumn arrives, the garden breathes on last glorious hurray. Plants that slept through the heat of summer come alive with blooms, while foliage begins to shift toward autumn hues. Not all the colors of fall are warm and golden. Radiant purples are just as plentiful, as are vivid pinks and soft blues. Celebrate the season by creating lush and lasting late-season color in the garden with bountiful blooms and vibrant foliage.

Flower Combos for Late-Season Color

As the heat of summer wanes, goldenrods (Solidago species) open their glorious golden spikes. Try pairing the sunny hues of goldenrod with purple or blue for eye-catching contrast. The tall spikes of elegant blazing star (Liatris elegans) or 'Iron Butterfly' ironweed (Vernonia lettermanii) provide the perfect color combination. Set these against a backdrop of fall foliage for a dynamic display.

Goldenrods with Purple Flowers
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On the blue side, holding its own against its more diminutive cousins, 'Bluebird' smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) is quite the showstopper. This prolific bloomer stands 3 feet tall and is nearly covered in one-inch, violet blue flowers from September to October. The blooms have a yellow center and provide a valuable source of late-season nectar to bees and butterflies.

Pretty in Pink Fall Bloomers

While pink isn't a color commonly associated with autumn, there are plenty of pink blooms to go around. The aptly named 'Pink Preference' autumn sage (Salvia greggii) puts on a wonderful late season display after an earlier spring flush and sporadic summer blooms. 'Pink Preference' produces long-lasting fuchsia blooms that hummingbirds adore. Numerous other cultivars are also available with a range of flower colors from yellow to orange, fuchsia to purple, red, burgundy, and white.

Salvia greggii
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One of the most dynamic bloomers in the fall garden is a grass: 'Pink Flamingos' muhly grass (Muhlenbergia hybrid). Airy pink flowerheads float above blue-green foliage for a dramatic show. Plant in masses for drifts of unparalleled color. 'Pink Flamingos' and 'Pink Preference' also make a gorgeous duo in the garden for a completely different autumn aesthetic.

Fabulous Late-Season Foliage

Foliage takes the center stage as summer wanes, but we don't only have to look to the trees to find fabulous foliage. Oakleaf hydrangeas like 'Ruby Slippers' are magnificent in autumn, when the bold foliage turns a magnificent mahogany red that lasts well into winter. The pillowy flower heads also hang on into the winter months, shifting from soft pink to deep rose before fading to beige. 'Ruby Slippers' is a compact oakleaf hydrangea noted for its rounded form and large, upright flower heads.

‘Ruby Slippers’ Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’)
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We don't often think about evergreens when considering autumn foliage, but Fire Chief™ Arborvitae dons a fresh hue for each season. From bright gold in spring to soft orange tones in summer, the foliage darkens to an amber red in autumn and holds that color throughout the winter. Putting on a similar wardrobe change each season is 'Kaleidoscope' Abelia. The variegated foliage emerges lemon-lime in spring, taking on golden tones throughout the summer months. As autumn arrives, the foliage shifts again to brilliant orange and red tones. 'Kaleidoscope' Abelia also blooms well into fall.Many grasses also shift to autumn hues as the summer winds down. 'Prairie Fire' switchgrass turns a luxuriant wine red, while 'Blue Heaven' little bluestem grass develops a burgundy red color. Another source of colorful late-season foliage is narrowleaf blue star (Amsoniahubrichtii) also called Arkansas amsonia. The fine foliage of this herbaceous perennial turns into a glowing mound of golden foliage each fall and stands for much of the winter, depending on location.

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