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Aster and goldenrod (Photo by Grace Chapman Elton)
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Joe pye weed (Photo by Don Williamson)
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Lobelia cardinalis (Photo by Lynn Kirk)
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Turtlehead (Photo by Grace Chapman Elton)
At the end of summer, when perennial bedding plants begin to look tired and worn out, many native plants are coming into their prime. Fall-blooming native perennials can easily be added to many home garden landscapes. They fill gaps as summer flowers fade and fall leaves are just starting to turn their brilliant colors. Because many of these plants bloom later than non-native perennials, they provide an important food source for our pollinators in addition to pleasing us with their showy blooms.
Native plants can also make life easier for the home gardener. They have adapted to our rainfall patterns, and usually won’t need supplemental irrigation once established. Natives prefer our soils and they shouldn’t need much soil amending or fertilizers. They are also accustomed to our climate, embracing both the heat and humidity of the summer and the mild winters of Virginia.
Add some asters
Asters are a great late summer and early fall blooming group of plants. Ranging in colors, habits and sizes, they prefer moderately dry soil and are delightfully deer resistant. White wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is a small, perennial groundcover with delicate daisy-like flowers. It likes full- to part-shade and will self-seed freely, so it is great for an informal woodland garden. In contrast, the smooth aster (Aster laevis) prefers full sun and grows upright. Bluebird is a cultivar of smooth aster that has large purple/blue flowers, up to 1-inch across, and can grow 3- to 4-feet tall. New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) come in a range of pink to purple shades. These asters are medium-sized, around 1- to 2-feet tall. These asters can thrive in full to part sun and in a range of soils from dry to moist.
There are also attractive, native fall-blooming plants that prefer moist to wet soils. Turtleheads (Chelone) are a group of plants that are pollinated by bumblebees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Flower colors range from white to hot pink, and they get their common name from the shape of the flowers, which look like a turtle peeking its head out of its shell. Turtleheads are also an important host plant for butterflies. Another water-loving plant is cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). The bright red flower spikes are a favorite of hummingbirds and do well as cut flowers. A plant that complements both of these is joe pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum and Eutrochium dubium). This plant has large purple flowerheads and can reach 5- to 8-feet tall. Sometimes, the flower heads can get so heavy that staking is necessary. Dwarf cultivars also are available to resist the bending and breaking. Little Joe reaches 4-feet, Baby Joe stays at a diminutive 2-to 3-feet tall.
Feed the bees
An important nectar plant for honeybees in the fall is goldenrod (Solidago), because it is one of the latest blooming plants from which they gather nectar. Goldenrod is a plant that produces a range of yellow colored flowers and is best enjoyed in a naturalistic or meadow garden, as it readily self-seeds and will refuse to stay only where you planted it. This plant can grow up to 6-feet tall, but smaller cultivars are available. Little Lemon is a bright yellow cultivar that grows 1-foot to 18-inches tall. Fireworks is slightly taller, reaching 3- to 4-feet and bursting with sturdy golden flowers.
With many options for color, shape, size and cultural requirements, every gardener can find the perfect native plant to adorn their fall landscape.