Choose these perennials for fall blooms
My sister who lives in planting zone 5, far north of Virginia, asked my advice about selecting blooming plants for the heat of summer. I’ll give you the same guidance I shared with her.
For annual selections, I recommend looking at commercial plantings. What survives in a median, in front of an office complex, or on a shopping center hellstrip?
For perennial plants, I plug natives. The following suggestions are summer-blooming natives for zone 7 here in Central Virginia.
Liatris (aka blazing star or gayfeather) is a genus in the Aster family that produces a large spike of lilac flowers. There are several species, all of which provide a showy exclamation point in a garden while providing nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies and native bees.
New England asters prefer moist soils and full sun. These lavender-pink to deep violet wildflowers can grow four to six feet tall. Blooming from August through September, they provide a nectar source for pollinators, especially monarchs as they stock up for their fall migration to Mexico.
Need moist soil
Swamp or Eastern rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) produces creamy-white or pink flowers from July through September. The flowers have a deep pink or burgundy center and grow six to eight inches in diameter. The plants thrive in full to partial sun. (Note: This plant may be marketed as a hardy hibiscus and is not the tropical hibiscus that is an annual in the Richmond area.)
Scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma) produces tightly clustered tubular red flowers from July through September. True to its name, beebalm attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, bumblebees and other native bees. Growing in full sun to partial shade, its native habitat is creekbanks and floodplains.
Might require staking
Narrow-leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) has a long bloom period. With silvery foliage and white to lavender blossoms, it is a pollinator magnet. Like many tall-growing native perennials, it may need staking as it can grow four feet high.
New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) can reach six feet tall. Its natural habitat includes riverbanks; however, it can tolerate regular or dry soil. It has finely petaled red-purple flowers from July through September that attract butterflies.
Joe Pye weeds (Eutrochium spp.) are not weedy at all. With heights ranging from three feet to seven feet, they may need staking, however. They have a clumping growth habit with flowers that attract butterflies, especially swallowtails and monarchs.
Leave the spent flower heads through the winter; the plant “fluff” will be used by birds for nests the following spring. Flowering from July through September, Joe Pye colors range from dusky rose to mauve pink. Sweet Pye weed has a vanilla fragrance. Most need moist to wet, rich soils.
Solidago is a genus of about 100 species known as goldenrod. Blooming in late summer and early fall, goldenrods provide late season food for bees and butterflies, as well as attract predatory insects that target pest insects.
Goldenrod species vary in light and moisture requirements. While most blooming plants require full sun, the following species add a yellow splash to lightly shaded spots: Solidago caesia (blue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod); the aggressive Solidago flexicaulis (zigzag goldenrod); Solidago nemoralis (gray, dwarf, or old field goldenrod).
Helianthus is a genus of 62 sunflower species in the Aster family. Many gardens include the annual sunflower with its plate-sized blooms; however, there are perennials species native to the area. In fact, the perennial H. angustifolius was named 2007 NC Wildflower of the Year.
With bright yellow flowers from July through October, sunflowers are not only appealing to us, but also to pollinators, who love their nectar, and birds, who enjoy the seed heads.
These plants are also the larval host for several butterfly species, including the painted lady and silvery checkerspot. Note that perennial Helianthus spread rapidly by rhizomes and can be aggressive in a garden; however, if you have space, they are great for naturalizing.
Rudbeckia species, including black-eyed Susan (R. hirta) and green-headed coneflower (R. laciniata), are low maintenance plants that are easy to grow and tolerant of most soils. Some are shorter lived, but all reseed and establish clumps. The yellow petals surround a woody cone.
Butterflies and bees are attracted to the nectar, while birds, especially goldfinches and chickadees, enjoy the ripe seeds. Black-eyed Susan blooms from June through October and is drought-tolerant.
While August is not the best month for planting perennials, it is a good time to scout out a few natives for planting this upcoming spring. And, as I advised my sister, it’s always important to choose the right plant for the right spot!
Lela Martin is a Master Gardener with the Chesterfield County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.