Gardening column: Don’t forget to plant fall-blooming perennials | Columnists
Fall is definitely in the air and with that twist it means plenty of plants are ready for the year. There are also many plants that are just starting to put on a show.
This is great because it’s also wonderful when a lot of types of plants bloom in the fall when other things start to sink. However, when planning a garden, it is important that the plants bloom during most of the seasons. This is to better attract beneficial wildlife such as pollinators. As with any other animal, it is important to provide them with a good source of food at all times, and flowers are the best way to ensure this is the case. There are many plants that bloom in spring and summer. Unfortunately, fewer plants bloom in autumn and winter, but these are still indispensable. Here’s a look at the different plants that are in bloom now and how best to grow them.
One of the core concepts in developing a healthy and vibrant garden is to have lots of wildlife in the garden. We’ve talked about attracting birds with lots of native plants that provide a source of food, but the best food source will always be the insects that we attract. These insects are also important to provide many garden benefits, from pollinating to controlling many of the pests we want to avoid.
When planning a garden as such, the first step is to have three species bloom all year round. And while spring and summer offer a great variety of flowering plants, the fall flowering species can sometimes be overlooked, but are just as important. If plants bloom now, it can benefit both the aesthetics of the landscape and the ecosystem as a whole.
Some of the most common are the ones we see every day. If you notice the yellow masses of flowers along many streets, you will see one of the many species of the prolific goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Which is the state wildflower of South Carolina.
Unfortunately, this is often confused with ambrosia, which is also in bloom at this time but doesn’t produce the yellow blooms we see. Ambrosia is generally wind pollinated, so it is known to produce large amounts of pollen, which causes many allergic reactions.
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Goldenrod, on the other hand, prefers insect pollination, so the pollen is heavier and less likely to affect humans. This wonderful native is often excluded from many landscapes due to its tendency to spread, but it is one of the best fall bloomers. Another that may be overlooked in the garden is the joe pye weed (Eutrochium spp.), A tall perennial that likes to grow along roadsides and is popular with pollinators. There are a few smaller varieties of this wildflower that will blend in perfectly with any landscape and bloom in early fall.
Fall-blooming wildflowers like goldenrod, joe pye weed, New England aster, and the swamp sunflower pictured here grow large and make for lush blooms in an autumn garden. Christopher Burtt / Provided
Some of the many autumn-blooming asters are also now in bloom. The beautiful, purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is a favorite in my own garden. This native herbaceous perennial can grow up to 6 feet tall but makes an excellent addition to any landscape.
On the other hand, there is the tall, native perennial, the marsh sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius). This ideal wildflower can grow tall and become fertile when allowed, and when it does bloom it’s understandable why to grow it in your home garden. It can grow up to 8 feet tall, but if pruned back in summer it can be kept relatively shorter. The marsh sunflower grows well in areas that are occasionally wet.
Another that is perfect for more humid areas is the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). It doesn’t get that big, but it’s popular with hummingbirds because of its bright red tubular flowers. There’s one other local I wanted to mention, an autumn flowering perennial in the mint family that many overlook. Georgia Savory (Clinopodium georgianum) is a rather uncommon intake in home gardens, but a perfect addition. This drought tolerant, low growing plant has fragrant foliage and small, pink flowers. It grows well in pollinator gardens or in herb gardens.
When planning a garden, keep in mind that the garden should offer more than just beautiful plants, but of course that is the main idea. Also, be sure to provide flowers and food for the wildlife, which often makes the garden more vibrant. There are many other fall flowering plants that can be added to the landscape and it is important to include as many as possible. The best way to attract beneficial wildlife is not only to increase the variety of plants growing and flowering, but also to ensure that something is in bloom for most of the year.
Christopher Burtt is the Urban Horticulture Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. He can be reached by email at [email protected]