Punch up the garden with fall perennials

Firecracker plant is a fall bloomer that hummingbirds love. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Firecracker bush is a fall bloomer that hummingbirds love. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Most of us plant for spring and summer blooms. What about fall? There are wonderful fall-blooming perennials that could help our gardens mark the transition of seasons if we would just plan for it.

Here are recommendations for Louisiana’s Best fall-blooming perennials from retired LSU AgCenter horticulturists Denyse Cummins and Joe White:

  • Hamelia: Also known as firecracker bush, this one will survive mild winters. “It really brings in the hummingbirds while they are trying to stock up for their winter flight home,” Denyse said.
  • Salvia madrensis. Photo courtesy of Denyse Cummins.

    Salvia madrensis. Photo courtesy of Denyse Cummins.

    Salvias: Some salvias, like S. guaranitica varieties ‘Black and Blue’ and ‘Argentine Skies,’ start flowering in summer and save their best bloom for fall. But the best are fall bloomers, Denyse said. “Really outrageous salvias that ONLY bloom in fall are rosebud sage (S. involucrata) and forsythia sage (S. madrensis). They are monstrous big, 5-7 feet, and look best in the back of a planting of large plants.  Forsythia sage blooms can be 10-12 inches long. They can all take half day shade and bloom well.”

  • Agastache: Also known as hyssop, these plants are magnets for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. “There have been many new agastaches introduced in the last few years,” Denyse said.  “I love the large ones, A. aurantiaca ‘Desert Sunrise’ and ‘Apricot Sunrise.’  They start blooming in the heat of summer and just keep going until frost.  They are big and blowsy like Russian sage but give that soft orange color.  I would not overwater them, since they are a Southwestern plant.”
  • Sedum Autumn Joy. Photo by Kathie Rowell.
    Sedum Autumn Joy. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’:  Succulent leaves and stems are topped with clusters of tiny rosy flowers that mature to copper and brown, perfect for fall.  “We usually get two blooms out of it (early summer and fall) and it will grow in an irrigated bed just fine.  It needs full sun,” Denyse said.

  • Chrysanthemums: Mums were on the list of both Denyse and Dr. White. But if you expect them to come back, make sure you buy the right kind. “Potted florist’s mums, the ones that show up in the stores now, don’t usually perennialize,” Denyse said. “The mums that do are the Korean mums like Ryan’s Pink and Country Girl.  The difference is that the potted mums have a fuzzy leaf that traps moisture and causes them to die of fungal diseases.  The smooth Korean mum’s leaves don’t have that problem and once you’ve got them you’ve got them forever. They are good spreaders and some have to be pulled up when they overtake their allotted space. They can get 2 ½-to-3 feet tall and fall over but I like them best when they are ruthlessly pinched. I do find hand-pinching them in early summer, when the weather is still good, a pleasant Zen activity, but you can also take a weed whacker to them in early and mid-summer and just rake or blow the tops out of the bed.”
  • Hardy asters: Asters cover themselves with hundreds of small, daisy-like flowers that attract butterflies.

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