Planting Color in Late Summer and Early Fall
Many folks think of spring as the peak color season in their gardens. It’s often easy to “front load” the garden with spring flowering plants because that’s the time of the year when gardeners are visiting their local garden centers in search of plants. And of course, we all tend to buy what’s in color on the benches. But as the growing season stretches into summer, many gardens become very green with few flowers in sight. And that’s a shame because you late summer and early fall garden can as much or more colorful as the spring garden, only taller.
I always advise my fellow gardeners to get out into their gardens in late July and August to have a thoughtful look around. Take a note pad and write down your observations about where you could use more color. And what colors would look best. Consider our pollinators. The bees, butterflies and hummingbirds that feast in spring, need to feed through the fall months in preparation for winter. Our gardens can make a huge difference.
Many spring flowering perennials and perennial bulbs tend to be short and medium sized plants. But the summer and early fall blooming perennials have had many months of growth before their flowers appear. Hence the tall grandeur of late season blooming perennials. Many out of town visitors are stunned to see my New Mexico gardens in September. They had no idea that there are so many wonderful flowering perennials that wait until the end of the growing season to bloom. And as an added bonus, most of these perennials are nectar sources for hummingbirds, so my gardens are full of these tiny, sparkling birds.
Some of my favorite flowers for late season color include:
- Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea)- favorite nectar source for bumblebees and butterflies.
- Re-blooming English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – nectar for bees and fragrance for people. These include ‘Buena Vista’, ‘Sharon Roberts’ and ‘Pastor’s Pride’)
- Goldenrod (Solidago) – fantastic for butterflies and bees. These include ‘Fireworks’, ‘Golden Fleece’ and ‘Peter Pan’.
- Salvia (Sage) – there are some many and all of them feed the hummingbirds. My favorites include ‘Furmans Red’, Salvia reptans, ‘Ultra Violet’ and Salvia pachyphylla (for Western gardens only).
- Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) – fantastic hummingbird flowers. ‘Blue Fortune’ (best for Midwest and East Coast), ‘Ava’, ‘Rosita’, ‘Desert Solstice’ and Agastache rupestris.
- Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria) – spectacular orange flowers, rich with nectar that hummingbirds feast on. Zauschneria arizonica and ‘Orange Carpet’.
- Russian Sage (Perovskia) – gorgeous smoky blue flowers. A favorite of honeybees and bumblebees.
- Maximilian’s Sunflower (Helianthus) – Towers of flowers in late summer and early fall. ‘Santa Fe’ and Dakota Sunshine’
- Cold Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma) – gorgeous blue flowers and burgundy fall foliage!!
- Ornamental grasses (Calamogrostis, Sporobolus, Muhlenbergia, Bouteloua) - all wonderful for fall and winter interest with their ornamental seed heads. Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’ is one of the most unusual and spectacular.
Text and photos by David Salman
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