Fall Planting with Native Plants


Bouteloua 'Blonde Ambition' with Cotoneaster, Agave and Oputia.

Bouteloua 'Blonde Ambition'
with Cotoneaster, Agave and Oputia.


Fall is upon us with the Autumn Solstice less than two weeks away. By establishing your native plants in the fall, they will be larger and bloom more robustly during next year’s growing season than the same plant planted next spring. For gardeners in USDA zones 7 through 11 where the summers are hot and the winters mild, fall planting is the best time to plant.  In these areas, the number of days between spring and the searing heat of summer is far too short for plants to establish deep roots before the heat settles in.

Before we discuss native plants, I think it is important that we understand the term so you and I are in sync with what we are talking about. I define a native plant as:

  • a species native to North America (from Panama north to Alaska and Canada)
  • a native plant hybrid  (when pollen travels from one species to another and seed is set, the seedlings are hybrids between two different species. This is a native hybrid.)

Helianthus maximiliana 'Santa Fe'

Helianthus maximiliana
'Santa Fe'


There are some pretty passionate native plant purists that will argue that North America is too large a region to define a “native plant” for their garden. They insist that we only use plants with a local proximity.  But many native plants are widely distributed and don’t consider political boundaries when establishing themselves in habitat. And these same folks don’t consider hybrids to be native either. But this exposes a shallow understanding of what a species is and ignorance of the fact that many native plants will hybridize with each other when their ranges overlap.  And this happens often and with no input from a human. It’s part of the evolutionary process, after all.

Many gardens don’t have enough fall flowers, and that’s a big shame. There are many perennials that color the late season garden beyond the boring Big Box standards such as flowering cabbage and kale, garden mums and pansies. Must we Americans be so homogenous such that gardens across our huge, diverse geography all look the same?

Make your fall garden different with some of my favorite late summer/fall blooming native perennials.

     Perennials

  1. Santa Fe Maximilian’s Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliana ‘Santa Fe’)
  2. ‘Perfect Pink’ Phlox  (Phlox nana ‘Perfect Pink’)
  3. ‘Shimmer’ Evening Primrose  (Oenothera fremontii ‘Shimmer’)
  4. araschino Bush Sage (Salvia hybrid)- best for fall planting in zones 6 and warmer
  5. Furman’s Red’ Texas Bush Sage (Salvia greggii)- best to plant  in zones 6 and warmer
  6. Prairie Sage  (Salvia azurea Santa Fe Co., NM collection)
  7. Beebalm  (Monarda species and cultivars)
  8. ‘Dark Violet’ hybrid Skullcap  (Scutellaria ‘Dark Violet’)
  9. ‘Snow Flurry’ Aster  (Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’)
  10. ‘Dream of Beauty’ Aster  (Aster oblongifolius ‘Dream of Beauty’)
  11. ‘Wichita Mountains’ Goldenrod  (Solidago sp.)
  12. Orange Carpet® Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet)
  13. ‘Ava’ Hummingbird Mint (Agastache hybrid)

     Shrubs and Vines

  1. Honeysuckle Vine  (Lonicera sempervirens  cultivars)
  2. Yellow Twig Rabbit Brush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus ‘Yellow Twig”)
  3. New Mexico Privet (Forestiera neomexicana)

     Ornamental Grasses

  1. ‘Blonde Ambition’ Blue Grama Grass  (Bouteloua gracillis ‘Blonde Ambition’)

Browse Native Plants

  • Texas Blazing Star Liatris mucronata

    $8.99

    Sale: $7.19

    Per Plant - 2.5" deep pot

  • Undaunted Ruby Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia reverchonii

    $10.99

    Sale: $8.79

    Per Plant - 5" deep pot


6 thoughts on “Fall Planting with Native Plants”

  • Lisa Masini

    Excellent suggestions, thank you from the dry zone 6 Okanagan in BC Canada.

  • Rich Hawksworth
    Rich Hawksworth 09/19/13 at 9:02 am

    Botanic militants aside, there are many extraordinarily bright people--biologists, botanists, ecologists, etc.--who feel strongly that planting local natives is best practice when it comes to gardening. It's safe to say they don't suffer from "a shallow understanding of what a species is and ignorance of the fact that many native plants will hybridize with each other." This country is too vast to apply a "native" label on every plant that grows "from Panama north to Alaska and Canada." A plant that fills an ecological niche in one part of the country may be downright ill-behaved in another.

    • David Salman

      Rich,
      I agree with you that from an ecological perspective that planting only regional native plants creates the best local habitat. At the same time I think it is useful to distinguish between ornamental gardening and habitat restoration/reclamation. The goals of reclamation are very different from ornamental gardening and the criteria for plant selection is much different.

      The vast majority of gardeners are doing so in urban and suburban environments where the natural ecology has been permanently altered. If we can get gardeners to at least try native plants by offering them showier native species for use in their landscapes, we can gradually introduce and educate them to a wider spectrum of local natives. Many regional native plants are unavailable in the nursery trade because of lack of demand. So realistically many "regional only" native plant enthusiasts have to grow their own.

      The effort to get American to appreciate our vast native flora is and has been an uphill battle. So I like to widen the menu by offering North American native plants.

  • Barbara Taylor
    Barbara Taylor 09/23/13 at 5:02 am

    Good point! I am so glad I have discovered you and your fabulous plants. Keep them coming!

  • Sandra Hayes
    Sandra Hayes 11/19/13 at 8:28 am

    I no longer live in El Paso, Tx, I am now in Tupelo, Ms - Zone 7a/b. I just introduced gazania to my garden, a plant that first showed up here this year. It is the "loudest" bloomer in my garden right now, in spite of a couple of 27 degree nights. I have continued to purchase from you since 1998 since you have always produced reliable plants for each season. I have always been comfortable recommending your plants. I hope to teach local residents the advantage of fall planting, and xeric plants (even if we do get a great deal of rain, we still have those 2-3 months of summer that everything needs a little assist). I will also be installing rain barrels to supply water for my veggies.

    • David Salman

      Sandra:
      Thank you for your comments. Tupelo MS is a far cry from gardening in El Paso! A steep learning curve I bet.

      I had no idea that Gazania are successful in the Deep South. That's great news as I'm a huge fan of Gazania and have a lot of them in development. And we have a great new one coming for spring 2014 that I've been working on for the last 5 years or so. It is Gazania krebsiana 'Scarlet Tanager'. Please give it a try and let me know how it does.
      Rain barrels are a great way to keep your plants happy. There's nothing like rainwater to make our gardens happy.

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