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Garden Detective: Top 10 fall plants

The go-to fall plant of many Long Island

The go-to fall plant of many Long Island gardeners is the Chrysanthemum. Contrary to popular usage, these plants are perennial and will return every year if allowed to remain in the ground or container. Their yellow, pink, purple, orange, rust or white flowers begin blooming in late September or early October. Photo Credit: MorgueFile

It's time to clear away annuals and faded summer perennials, but that doesn't mean you're destined to stare at a vacant patch of dirt until snow covers it.

The go-to fall plant of many Long Island gardeners is the Chrysanthemum. Contrary to popular usage, these plants are perennial and will return every year if allowed to remain in the ground or container. Their yellow, pink, purple, orange, rust or white flowers begin blooming in late September or early October.

But there are plenty of other plants that will color your borders and containers throughout autumn. My 10 favorite:

1. Viola (Pansy)

These little blooming workhorses known for their "smiling faces" are available in yellow, orange, maroon, purple, blue, pink, rust and other variations, all with a trademark "face" in the center of each flower. What's unusual about these low- growing plants is that -- unlike other annuals that thrive during summer and die out as frost hits -- pansies bloom in fall, survive the winter and repeat the performace in spring before the heat does them in. Some are even marketed as "winter pansies," but don't be fooled: Just about all pansies will make it through winter and return in spring.

2. Nipponanthemum nipponicum (Montauk daisy)

These perennial shrubs die back to the ground in winter and bloom on new growth the next fall. In spring, they fill out with tough, glossy toothed leaves and provide greenery all summer long before becoming covered with yellow-centered white daisy-like flowers in autumn. And as a bonus for those living near the shore, Montauk daisies are moderately salt-tolerant.

3. Sedum 'Autumn joy' (Stonecrop)

These perennial succulents are attractive as soon as they emerge in spring, and the best part is that they transform several times as the season progresses. They start as cushion-leaved foliage plants, and by early summer they sport green flower heads. As the season warms, the blooms turn pale pink, then darker pink, and by autumn, a rich burgundy. It's almost like having several different plants throughout the season. Plus, the colors are seasonally appropriate. Deer like to munch them, but these drought-tolerant, unfussy plants are as low-maintenance as they come.

4. Conoclinium coelestinum (Hardy ageratum)

This herbaceous perennial from the Aster family blooms from July through October. The fluffy purple flowers are held up on long stems, which make them ideal for cutting. When selecting a spot to plant, be aware that hardy ageratum tends to spread.

5. Tricyrtis hirta (Toad lily)

These low-maintenance perennials are a boon to shady gardens with their orchidlike flowers. Blooming from late summer through mid-fall, these seemingly paint-splattered white lilies are naturally deer-resistant, too.

6. Solidago rugosa (Rough goldenrod)

This easy-to-grow herbaceous perennial in the Aster family stays inconspicuous all summer before exploding with vibrant yellow-flowered spikes that persevere through mid-fall. Clip them for potpourri or leave them on the plant to attract birds and butterflies. The 'Fireworks' cultivar is especially eye-catching.

7. Colchicums autumnale (Autumn crocus)

Your friends will think you have the greenest thumb in the neighborhood when they spot crocuses blooming in your garden in fall. But these leafless alpine natives will just be doing what comes naturally: appearing out of nowhere and adding a splash of pink or white that lasts up to three weeks in autumn. Larger than springtime crocus, Colchicums are actually members of the lily family.

8. Caryopteris x clandonensis (Blue mist shrub)

Blooms heavily above aromatic foliage from late summer through fall, sometimes continuing until the first frost. Flowers appear smoky or misty, which give it its common name. Look for 'Longwood blue' (sky blue flowers) or 'Dark knight' (deep blue flowers) varieties.

9. Anemone tomentosa (Grapeleaf anenome)

When the summer garden begins to fade, this anemone takes over with a continuous profusion of slightly cupped blooms that last through fall. Long thin stems adorned with fuzzy grapelike foliage hold pink flowers that give way to fluffy seedheads, which provide winter interest.

10. Chelone glabra (Turtlehead)

Named for the shape of its flowers, Turtlehead's dense spikes of pink-tinged white flowers bloom from August through October, but its glossy leaves command attention until frost. As a bonus, it attracts butterflies, bumblebees and other native pollinators, and provides nesting material for birds.

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