I belong to a wonderful group of women called the Careywood Sew ‘n’ Sew Club. We get together once a month at a member’s home for lunch and fellowship (not gossip!), and this past month was my turn. Since the lamb roast was taking a lot longer in the oven than I’d planned on, we took a stroll through my new and improved yard (I’ll post about that sometime soon). Several of the ladies admired my blooming Michaelmas daisies which led to a conversation about fall blooming flowers.

I think we’d all like to have flower borders that bloom right up to the first snowfall though that’s probably not a reasonable expectation here in the northernmost corner of Idaho. We can, however, have something in bloom right up to the first killing frost if we do our research and incorporate fall bloomer into our borders.

As with all plants, the real trick with fall blooming plants is to incorporate them into your flower borders in such a way that they support the rest of your spring and summer bloomers without looking dull or out-of-place while you wait for them to take center stage in the fall. This requires that you pay attention not just to bloom time and color but also to the ultimate size and shape of the plant. One of my first attempts at adding Michaelmas daisies to my kitchen garden border was not as successful as it could have been because I hadn’t taken into account how big the plant would get. Long before the daisies bloomed beautifully blue in September, the plant had completely hidden the shorter marigolds behind it. I had violated the “tall plants in back, short plants in front” rule because all I was thinking about was when the plant bloomed.

When planning for fall blooms, don’t forget that there are shrubs that bloom in the fall. In a mixed shrub and perennial border, the shrubs form the backbone of the garden design. Fall blooming shrubs can be mixed in with the spring and summer blooming shrubs and perennials providing a restful green backdrop until they come into their own at the end of the growing season.

With the help of Google and one of my favorite gardening websites — the Missouri Botanical Gardens — I did some research on fall bloomers.

Shrubs:

As you might imagine, this is a relatively short list and many of them are only reliably hardy to Zone 5 (average lowest winter temperature -20), but if you pay attention to micro-climate, you may find a warm, protected spot in your yard where one of these would fit right in.

Seven Son Flower Shrub:
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=k450

Caryopteris:
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=e232

Summer Sweet (Clethra alnifolia) – hardy to Zone 3:
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c230

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) – another one that ‘s hardy to Zone 3:
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a749
This useful shrub provides bloom at either end of the season. Hamamelis virginiana blooms at the end of the year while vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) blooms at the beginning. I have added vernal witch hazel to one of my new borders as an experiment to see how early in the growing season I can have something in bloom. I’ll keep you posted.

Perennials:

There is quite a list of flowers that bloom in August through first frost including some bulbs. Many of these, like the Russian Sage and sedums I’m so fond of, have attractive foliage that let them “back up” the summer bloomers until it’s time for them to strut their stuff in the fall.

Russian Sage (Perovskia):
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=z250
Don’t be fooled into thinking this beauty has died because it didn’t pop up and start growing immediately in the spring! It’s a slow starter and will come on later.

Gentian:
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=k320

Japanese Anemone “Prinz Heinrich” or “Prince Henry”:
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=e134

Michaelmas Daisy (actually in the aster family):
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=b149
Michaelmas Daisies are some of my most favorite fall blooming plants! I love the bright pop of blue when everything else seems to be blooming in the red/orange/yellow range.

Sedums:
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=t610
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a736
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=q180
Got lots. Love ’em. Need more.

Boltonia (False Aster):
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=b869

Chinese Lanterns:
http://www.perennials.com/plants/physalis-alkekengi.html
This little devil doesn’t actually bloom in the fall, but its bright orange lanterns are at their best in the fall. It is an aggressive underground spreader so you’ll want to corral it in a pot or put it in a place where you don’t mind seeing a lot of it!

Fall Crocus (Colchicum):
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=d539
This fall blooming lovely will fool you! It comes up in the spring and then appears to die back without blooming. Just when you think you’ve been well and truly bamboozled by a slick talking bulb salesman, along comes September and suddenly the bulbs put out flower stalks (no leaves, just the flower stalk) of gorgeous blossoms and one of the prettiest is “Water Lily”.

Chrysanthemum:
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a985
Although these plants are perennials (in Zone 5), most of us buy them as annuals for planting in pots or the border to replace annuals that are tired (or dead!) by September. I have them growing in my back deck planters right now, and I know I’m going to miss them when frost finally stops the show.

Goldenrod (Solidago):
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=m400
Not the source of the pollen that torments hay fever sufferers (that honor belongs to ragweed), goldenrod is a wonderful pop of yellow in my own fall garden.

When thinking of fall blooming plants, don’t forget those generous flowers that start blooming earlier in the summer and don’t give up till the first hard frost knocks them down. These include, in my garden: snapdragons, zinnias, marigolds, tickseed, love-lies-bleeding, kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, anise blue hyssop and hummingbird mint.

It’s tempting sometimes to envy those who live much further south where winter blooming flowers are a possibility, but, frankly, by the time the snow begins to fall around here, I’m looking forward to a few months of R & R (rest and reading). I guess that extending my bloom season into fall is about as far as I care to go.

In closing, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite poems about fall (I think I learned it in the Third Grade under the kind but stern tutelage of Mrs. Anna Parks).

SEPTEMBER

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

The golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.

The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook.

From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes’ sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.

By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And autumn’s best of cheer.

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