I think fall is often the most overlooked and under-appreciated time in the garden. Maybe it's like downhill skiing in April. People figure the ski season is over and it's time to pull out your hiking boots. Yet, true "powder hounds" (skiers) know that here in the Rockies, the biggest, deepest powder days arrive with water-laden April storms. Well, the analogy is the same for the fall landscape; some of our most incredible and showy ornamentals are at their best after summer has passed when many gardeners have hung up their trowel.
Summer Rains and Fall-Blooming Native Plants
Fall is a glorious time in the Intermountain West, Great Plains and the Southwestern US. Many of our native plant species are responsive to the mid-summer rains that bring much needed moisture in July and August (affectionately known as the "monsoon season," when cloud bursts dump rain by the inch). Native plants respond to the monsoons with a burst of fall color, some of which are actually re-blooming after their late spring flush.
Plants To Provide Fall Garden Habitat
These fall blooming native plants have always been a focus of High Country Gardens perennial selection. Not only do these plants delight us with their brilliant flowers, but they are integral to the habitat garden, providing:
- Precious nectar and pollen to migrating monarchs and hummingbirds migrating south to their winter habitats in Mexico/southern most Arizona & New Mexico.
- Seeds and fruits for songbirds.
- Nectar and pollen for butterflies, native bees, honey bees and bumblebees so necessary to build winter food reserves.
While the spring garden is full of smaller, compact flowering perennials and bulbs, the fall garden is the realm of big perennials and ornamental grasses that have been growing all summer before coming into flower.
Perennial Highlights for the Fall Garden
Garden mums and ornamental cabbage/kale have become a fall flowering cliché', a big box store give away for no-thought gardening. Double flowered mums are of no value to pollinators. (If you're going to plant a fall blooming mum, look for heirloom, single flowered varieties which are nectar-rich.) Take a walk on the wild side and put your funds and labor into more sustainable perennials.
- Zauschneria canum var. arizonica 'Sky Island Orange' (Sky Island Orange Hummingbird Trumpet) - put on your sunglasses and toast the hummingbirds.
- Aster (Aster) - Try 'Professor Kippenberg', even my non-gardener son specifically mentioned how impressed he was with this flowering giant.
- Ornamental Grasses (Sorghastrum, Sporobolus, Muhlenbergia, Panicum) - plant 'em in big drifts for maximum impact.
- Vernonia lindheimeri v. leucophylla (Silver Ironweed) - fantastic flowers and foliage, fabulous for butterflies and bees.
- Lavandula angustifolia twice blooming (English Lavender) - these special cultivars flower late spring and fall (when deadheaded promptly in early summer). Plant 'Buena Vista', 'Sharon Roberts', 'Pastor's Pride'.
- Chrysothamnus nauseosus 'Yellow Twig' (Yellow Twig Rabbit Brush) - deep golden yellow flowers and bright yellow winter twigs.
- Agastache 'Ava' (Ava Hummingbird Mint) - non-fading raspberry-red calyxes are unique among the Agastache. Fabulous fall flowers too.
- Helianthus maximiliana 'Santa Fe' and Helianthus maximiliana 'Dakota Sunshine' (Dakota Sunshine Maximilian's Sunflower)- big, bold and beautiful.
- Melampodium leucanthum (Blackfoot Daisy) - white daisies have covered the plant since late spring and keep coming until frost.
- Eupatorum (Joe Pye Weed) - butterflies and bees. Great fall seed display.
- Salvia x Raspberry Delight® - has been blooming all summer and keeps going until hard frost. All your pollinators are thankful for this one.
- Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Blue Spires' (Russian Sage) - Non-native. The Ever Ready bunny of flowering shrubs looks great with Rabbit Brush, ornamental grasses.
- Salvia azurea (Prairie Sage) - a bumble bee's delight
- Salvia reptans (West Texas Grass Sage) - why did I wait so long to plant this one? Did I mention bumble bees?
- Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Hardy Plumbago) - flowers blue as the fall sky followed by mahogany-red foliage!
- Salvia 'x Maraschino' (Maraschino Bush Sage) - back into flower for fall. All your pollinators are busy sipping this one.
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