Plant for fall garden


Presented by the National Association of Landscape Professionals in partnership with

By Marianne Lipanovich

Gardeners tend to get excited about spring, looking forward to trying out new plants and maybe even making a big move and changing their landscapes. And in summer there’s the joy of the garden in full bloom, and most fruit trees and vegetable gardens produce abundantly. By September, though, even the most avid gardener can start to feel worn out, and the best-tended garden can start to look a little tired.

That’s too bad, because gardening in the fall can be delightful. The weather is generally cooler than in summer (except in places like San Francisco), yet the garden doesn’t need as much care as in the spring.

To rejuvenate both your garden and your own gardening enthusiasm, why not plant some fall-blooming annuals and perennials? The annuals may be short lived if you have an early frost, but they’ll certainly brighten things up until then. The perennials might also be low producers this first fall, but think what you’ll have to look forward to in future years.

Those who live in mild-winter or desert climates have it even better; many of these plants will continue blooming into winter.

Some of the plants listed below bloom only in fall. Others may begin their bloom season earlier in the year. And some of the annuals that are normally considered spring flowers will flourish in the cooler fall weather, if only for a short time.

Photo by Rikki Snyder

Classic Chrysanthemum

Mums, specifically florists’ or garden mums, have become the go-to plants for a fall garden. You can go with the traditional yellow-, orange- and red-flowered mums or find varieties with flower colors ranging from white to purple. As a bonus, the flower shapes are incredibly varied; you can find quill-like petals, daisy shapes and pom-pom forms. To make the decision even more interesting, heights can range from 1 foot to 6 feet.

  • Common names: Florists’ chrysanthemum, garden mum
  • Botanical name: Chrysanthemum x grandiflorum
  • 4 to 10
  • Water requirement: Regular
  • Light requirement: Full sun
  • Mature size 1 foot to 5 feet

Growing tips: Plant blooming varieties in fall in well-draining soil about a month before the first frost for quick color. Then cut them back to about 8 inches above the ground when they finish blooming. Cover with sand, sawdust or a noncomposting mulch if you want. If your soil is very damp through winter or you live in a very cold climate, you may need to dig up the plants and overwinter them aboveground. Divide every few years.

Photo by The New York Botanical Garden

Sturdy Aster

Following closely on the heels of mums in popularity are the asters. There’s a reason these perennials are favorites: Their pink, blue and purple flowers (usually with a bright yellow center) offer a cool contrast to the warmer autumn colors of the changing leaves and grasses. They’re also hardy in almost every climate. Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ and ‘Wonder of Strafa’ bloom from summer to well into fall, and even through winter in the mildest areas, but they don’t always live as long as other species. The New England aster varieties are notable for their range of colors and their adaptability to wet soils. The similar New York aster, sometimes called a Michaelmas daisy, can range in size from under a foot to 4 feet tall.

  • Common names: Aster, New England aster, New York aster, Michaelmas Daisy
  • Botanical name: Aster x frikartii, A. novae-angliae, A. novi-belgii
  • 3 to 10
  • Water requirement: Regular
  • Light requirement: Full sun
  • Mature size 1 foot to 5 feet

Growing tips: Fairly tolerant, but grow best in fertile soil. The taller asters may need staking and you may have problems with mildew. Divide if plants become invasive or woody.

Photo by Rocco Fiore & Sons, Inc

Decorative Flowering Cabbage and Kale

What were once underappreciated vegetables have found their niche as stars of the ornamental fall and winter garden. Their oversize rosette or leafy heads in shades of white, cream, red and purple look like transplants from a giant’s garden. Grow them just as you would their edible cousins, either in the garden or in containers, and don’t worry as the colder weather approaches. They only look better with a touch of frost, as it brings out their color.

  • Common names: Flowering or ornamental cabbage and kale
  • Botanical name: Brassica oleracea
  • All; provide shelter from the sun in hot climates
  • Water requirement: Regular
  • Light requirement: Full sun is preferred, but they can take shade
  • Mature size 1 foot to 1½ feet

Growing tips: Set your plants about 1½ feet apart in the garden or add them to containers after the hot weather cools; lightly fertilize throughout the garden season. If you’re planting them in the garden, choose a new spot each year, as soil diseases can be a problem. As a plus, while these are “flowering” varieties, their leaves are edible.

Photo by Field Outdoor Spaces

Glorious Black-Eyed Susan

Humans aren’t the only ones who love this plant. Bees, birds and butterflies also flock to it. Plus, it’s easy to grow and can handle tough conditions. Most begin blooming in summer, but the flowering will continue well into fall. There are any number of species available; two of the most popular are ‘Herbstsonne,’ also called ‘Autumn Sun’, and ‘Goldsturm’.

To make things just a bit confusing, one of the common names for these plants is coneflower, a name also given to members of the Echinacea family.

  • Common names: Black-eyed Susan, gloriosa daisy, coneflower, brown-eyed Susan
  • Botanical name: Rudbeckia
  • 3 to 11
  • Water requirement: Moderate to regular
  • Light requirement: Full sun to light shade
  • Mature size 2 to 10 feet; smaller varieties are now available

Growing tips: These do best their first year if you plant them in spring, but you can still put blooming plants in place in fall for a burst of color. Taller plants may be droopy, so stake them or plant them close enough together that they can provide support without crowding one another. Cut the flowers for arrangements throughout the growing season to encourage continued blooming. Divide when they become crowded.

Photo by Barbara Pintozzi

The Other Coneflower

There are plenty of Echinacea species available for home gardeners, but purple coneflower, now available in other colors, is the most popular. It’s a hardy perennial with a long blooming season. Not only do the flowers attract butterflies and bees, they’re great cut as well. Take a look at the new hybrids that are even hardier and sport even more colors and flower shapes.

  • Common names: Purple coneflower, coneflower
  • Botanical name: Echinacea purpurea, E. hybrids
  • 3 to 9
  • Water requirement: Regular to moderate
  • Light requirement: Full sun
  • Mature size 2 to 4 feet

Growing tips: Provide well-drained soil, but otherwise coneflowers will do well almost anywhere in full sun or, in the hottest area, some light shade. They can handle drought conditions as well. Deadhead to keep the flowers coming. Keep the seed heads in place after the flowers fade for birds to enjoy.

Photo by Ginkgo Leaf Studio

Versatile Coreopsis

From spring to fall, coreopsis, also called tickweed, is an easy-care plant whose yellow, orange, red or purple flowers will attract butterflies to almost any garden. And once it has finished blooming, the seed heads will attract birds as well. The annual coreopsis can be grown in all USDA zones, while perennial choices are at home in all but the coldest or hottest climates (think Alaska, southern Texas and southern Florida). For something really unusual, check out C. tinctoria ‘Tiger Stripes’.

  • Common names: Coreopsis, tickweed, calliopsis
  • Botanical name: Coreopsis
  • All, depending on species
  • Water requirement: Little to moderate
  • Light requirement: Full sun
  • Mature size 1 foot to 2½ feet

Growing tips: Coreposis is generally happy with any soil as long as it drains well. Provide water to establish, then the plants can handle less moisture during the growing season. Deadhead regularly for repeat blooms or leave some blossoms to reseed. This plant self-sows and spreads rapidly, so you may need to divide it every few years.

Photo by Genevieve Schmidt

Easy-Care Sedum

When a plant has a variety named ‘Autumn Joy’, there’s no doubt that it belongs in the fall garden. While ‘Autumn Joy’ is one of the best known of the sedums, a lot of options are available. For the fall garden, hybrid varieties and Sedum spectabileare favorites for humans as well as birds, butterflies and hummingbirds.

  • Common names: Stonecrop
  • Botanical name: Sedum
  • 3 to 10
  • Water requirement: Regular to moderate, especially once established
  • Light requirement: Full sun; can take partial shade
  • Mature size 9 inches to 3 feet

Growing tips: Sedums are easy to grow and do better in poor dry soil with good drainage than in areas that are very wet. They are reasonably drought tolerant once established. Once the flowers are past their prime, let them dry and use them for indoor flower arrangements. You can cut the plants to the ground in fall or keep them in the garden for winter interest, then cut them back in late winter or early spring.

Photo by Le jardinet

Prolific Sneezeweed

The name is somewhat off-putting, especially if you have allergies, but you might want to overlook that in favor of enjoying the many bright yellow to brownish flowers sneezeweed gladly contributes to the landscape in autumn. You’ll find it sold as H. autumnale, but most of these are actually hybrids. Sneezeweed is another good choice for attracting butterflies and to use for cut flowers.

  • Common names: Sneezeweed
  • Botanical name: Helenium autumnale, H. hybrids
  • 3 to 9
  • Water requirement: Regular
  • Light requirement: Full sun
  • Mature size 3 to 5 feet

Growing tips: All prefer hot summers and soil that drains well but don’t need much fertilizer. Stake the taller types and deadhead to encourage continued blooming.

Long-Blooming Blanket Flower

If you want a long-blooming perennial, blanket flower is a top choice. It begins flowering early in the summer and lasts until the frosty weather. During that time flowers in mixes of yellow, orange, red and maroon will attract butterflies. Blanket flower can handle both heat and wind and even tolerate some frost.

  • Common names: Blanket flower
  • Botanical name: Gaillardia x grandiflora
  • All
  • Water requirement: Moderate
  • Light requirement: Full sun
  • Mature size 2 to 4 feet

Growing tips: Plant it in well-draining soil; you may need to amend heavy clay soil so the roots don’t rot in winter. Blanket flower grows easily from seed and often reseeds. If the plants become too crowded or start to die back, divide in early spring. Cutting for arrangements will encourage repeat blooms.

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Here’s What You Should Be Planting in the Fall

Hector Sanchez

This may be a little known fact, but fall is the key planting time for a beautiful garden. It’s also the key time to give your plants one last manicure before winter sets in. You actually have double the garden work during autumn. Now that summer’s heat is cooling off, it’s time for you to switch out your summer annuals for fall appropriate annuals and plant spring bulbs before the frost the first freeze. Here’s a handy list of flowers to plant in fall:

Fall Annuals

Mums, also known as Chrysantheums—This the most popular fall annual and it deserves a little bit more information. Buy potted varieties of them in September so that you will have options in every shape and color to choose from. Plant them in fall beds or containers and be sure to keep them watered well. For a pretty cottage look, try loosely growing old-fashioned types like ‘Hillside Sheffield’ and ‘Single Apricot Korean.’ If you’re trying to start them from seed, you’ll need to plant them much earlier in the spring to give them time to mature and bloom for autumn.

Other tried-and-true, cool weather annuals for you to replace your tired summer flowers in either beds or containers — angelonia, Begonia, coleus, lantana, calibrachoa, cosmos, globe amaranth, impatiens, lobelia, marigold, petunia, spider flower, sunflower, sweet alyssum, and zinnia.

Related: Fall Plant Gardening Tips

Fall Vegetables

Lettuce, Snowpeas, Collards, Carrots, Brussel sprouts, spinach, Broccoli, radish. The general rule of thumb is to plant fall vegetables 90 days before the first frost. Although, some vegetables (like broccoli) need a little more time to mature and sprout. Read the individual plant’s directions before planting anything.

Trees and Shrubs

Planting now gives them time to grow roots and take a strong hold into the ground.

Spring Bulbs

In November you’ll want to plant your tulip, daffodils, jonquils, hyacinths and other brightly colored early spring flowers.

Why Many Experts Feel Fall Planting Is Best

Fall Planting Results in Earlier Blooms

Like fall-seeded lawns, fall-planted wildflower seed has a chance to “settle” into your site during the winter, and is ready to burst into growth in early spring. This is why fall-planted wildflower seed is up and in bloom about two weeks earlier than spring-planted seed.

There is More Time to Plant in Fall

Every fall-planting advocate mentions it. In the fall, the gardener has far more time to get work done for two reasons. First of all, there is a longer period and far more “good days” for planting in the fall than during the tricky weather in spring. Secondly, the gardener always has more time during the fall than during the spring rush to get everything done after winter. (Many wildgardeners combine wildflower seed planting with fall bulb planting, and that’s always a good idea. The times for both are identical.)

Easier Weed Control

Fall planting is done after your growing season has ended. That means any weed seed in your soil is dormant, unlike in spring when it’s highly energized and bursting to grow.

This dormant situation is a real help to the gardener. For example, if you clear your seeding site one weekend, and don’t plant your wildflower seed until the next, that’s fine in the fall, and not OK in the spring. Obviously, with the weed seed dormant, you can take your time. But in spring, it’s necessary to clear and seed on the same day, because if you don’t, the weed seeds (they’re in ALL soil) have a jump on the wildflower seed you’re about to put down to compete with them.

With a fall planting, the weeds that do grow up in your flowers are easily removed when they appear as small plants along with your wildflower seedlings in spring.

How To Plant Wildflowers in the Fall

You will find extensive details on Fall Planting in our Wildflower How-To’s, including a detailed account on how to create your own Wildflower Meadow.

The actual planting of your seed in fall is the same as it is in spring, except the weather is usually better and you can choose the time.

  1. Choose your site and best planting time. Full sun is best, and a “border area” between lawn and woods or a more natural area is perfect. Planting should be done AFTER a killing frost in your area, or after you’re quite sure the growing season has ended, and your seed won’t sprout until spring. In heavy winter areas, that means from late September or October up until the ground freezes. (If you don’t have much frost in your area, you should plant just before your rainiest season begins. South Florida plants annuals in the fall for winter bloom. Coastal areas on the Pacific can plant anytime during the late fall or winter.)
  2. Clear the ground of existing growth (grass, weeds, roots, other plants in the area.) For small areas, this means turning the soil with a shovel, and then removing all the old growth. For larger areas, most wild gardeners use a rototiller. (If you don’t own one, rental stores have them, or your local landscaper will be happy to help you.) If you till, till just deep enough to remove the old growth. Deep tilling tends to bring up more weed seed into the surface soil.
  3. Spread the seed evenly over the bare soil. The best way to be sure it’s even is to split your wildflower seed into two roughly equal parts in two buckets or cans. Then add a quantity of white builders sand (Use the clean sand used in children’s’ sandboxes) to each bucket and mix the seed well with the sand. Then take your first bucket of sand/seed mix, and hand-broadcast it evenly over your entire prepared site. Next, take the second half and do the same, walking in the reverse direction. This makes it almost impossible to leave bare spots in your seeding, and assures even distribution of the various wildflowers in the mix you’re planting. The white sand not only makes the seed easier to sow, but it also shows up on the dirt, to show you “where you’ve been.”
  4. Don’t cover the seed, just compress the whole area. Once your seed is sown, it’s important to “squash” the seed into the loose, bare soil. To do this for small areas, just walk over it, and your footprints will do it. Just make sure you compress the entire area. (Kids love to help with this.) For medium sized areas, we often lay down a piece of plywood, and jump on it. For larger areas, a lawn roller is the best. Even without being filled with water, they do a perfect job of “putting your seeding to bed for the winter.”
  5. That’s it. Do not cover, and forget the birds if they arrive. Once your seed is compressed on the surface of the soil, you’re finished. Do not cover it, Do not rake it. Leave peat moss and especially hay OUT of this project. They’re not needed. In fact, even though hay is sometimes put on newly-seeded lawns, don’t do that to your wildflowers. Hay is full of weed seed, and remember, you’re not going to mow what comes up here, as you would a lawn. If you’ve planted a slope, you can put down WEED-FREE straw if you can get it to prevent erosion during the winter. But if you’ve compressed the soil well, most inclined sites will be just fine through the winter.
    Birds may arrive and begin pecking at (yes, eating) your seed. It that happens, don’t worry. It almost always happens to our plantings, and even if it’s a flock, they are never able to eat enough to put a dent in the meadow results.

What to Expect in Spring

When the weather warms in spring, you’ll notice your seed sprouting early, just like fall-planted grass seed. Usually, you won’t have to water, since spring weather is almost always wet enough. But if you suddenly see your little seedling area dry out, water immediately. No matter when you plant, your wildflower plants are the most vulnerable when they’re very young.

Normally, they’ll be just fine and bloom should begin in as little as 5 weeks after you see the first seedlings. (Some wildflowers bloom very quickly.) Pull unwanted weeds as they appear, and as the spring and summer weeks go by, you’ll see more and more species, and more and more color appear in your meadow. By July, you’ll be taking in armloads of cut flowers, and giving bouquets to friends. That’s the great joy of a wildflower planting.

If you have any further questions, read our “Wildflower Seed How-To” articles. And if that doesn’t answer your question, please always feel free to give our gardening experts a call at (877) 309-7333.

Shop for Wildflower Seed.

The seasons are changing, and with the drop in temperature comes the perfect time to refresh your outdoor plants. From mums to Russian Sage, we’ve listed seven of our favorite fall plants to give your deck or landscape some pops of color during this season.

Mums (Zones 5-9)

This is a fall favorite that will bring vibrant color to your deck. They come in a variety of colors and bloom shapes, giving you many options no matter your style or taste. They are typically less expensive than other perennials so are a great option for mass planting. Mums will do well in a container on your deck or planted in your yard.

Pansies (Zones 2-11)

Pansies bring a color personality unmatched by most fall plants. You usually start to see them at nurseries and garden centers around September. They do not fare as well in the heat and humidity which makes fall a great time to add them to your outdoor deck or garden. To ensure your pansies will withstand the winter, be sure and pick a hardier variety. Look for younger plants with fewer blooms in compact containers.

Asters (Zones 4-8)

This low maintenance flower resembles a daisy and can bring beautiful color to your deck in red, pink, white and blue. Since mums and asters bloom at the same time, you can plant them together to provide a nice contrast. We suggest planting asters early in the fall so they can grow a stronger root system before the winter months come into play. Be sure to plant your asters in an area with partial to full sun. Bonus: these colorful flowers attract butterflies.

Goldenrod (Zones 4-9)

If you want to bring in rich hues of yellow to your fall flower selection, goldenrod is your best bet. This low maintenance plant grows long stems with yellow flowers in clusters to heights of three feet or more. The flowers and leaves are also edible and known for their healing properties. Use the flowers or leaves to make tea or add the leaves to your favorite dish for flavor.

Lilies (Zones 4-9)

While lilies do best in the late summer and early fall, we had to add this flower to the list. These impressive blooms often come in pink, gold, white and red. They bring a refined look to any outdoor space and also attract their fair share of butterflies. Lilies are hearty flowers and do best in full sun or partial sun. Wherever you choose to plant your lilies be sure that the soil is able to drain well so the bulb does not rot.

Russian Sage (Zones 5-9)

Russian sage is an eye-catching plant from the mint family that will bring beauty in shades of purple. It does best in full sunlight and dryer soil. Russian sage can be a great color contrast to typical shades found in mums and asters. Plant these tall flowers in your garden or containers to bring an element of elegance to your outdoor space.

Helenium (Zones 4-8)

If you’d rather stick with traditional fall colors of orange and red, helenium is an excellent choice. Unlike Russian sage, helenium like plenty of water. Be sure to plant them one to two feet apart in a relatively sunny spot. Some types can grow to be quite tall (five feet) and come in a variety of patterns, giving you plenty of options for festive pops of color this fall.

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