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The Best Flowers And Plants For Fall

Molly Grace5-Minute Read
October 03, 2020

Fall is a notoriously dreary time for plant life. Of course, the turning leaves and fiery colors make for beautiful backdrops to all of our favorite autumnal activities – hayrides, pumpkin picking and bundled-up bonfires – but for the dedicated gardener, a cooling climate can be kind of a bummer.

Fortunately, there are a few blooms that can soldier on into fall. Not ready to put the wheelbarrow away for the season just yet? Make these pretty picks part of your fall garden plan.

1. Chrysanthemum

yellow and purple chrysanthemums

A fall favorite, chrysanthemums, nicknamed “mums,” are late-season bloomers that come in a variety of beautiful, rich colors, from deep reds, oranges and purples to pretty lavenders and bright yellows.

Hardy garden mums are perennials that are best planted in the spring. This gives them plenty of time to grow and establish a strong root system that will help them survive the winter and bloom in your garden year after year.

However, if you’re itching to fill your fall garden with these jewel-toned beauties right now, you can buy already-blooming mums around this time of year and plant them in pots or directly in your garden. Just don’t expect them to be long-lasting – mums planted in late summer or early fall should be treated as annuals.

2. Goldenrod

goldenrod with butterfly

Goldenrod is a bit of a controversial plant, considered by some to be more weed than wildflower and often (wrongly) credited with stirring up the sniffles in those with seasonal allergies. But for those who prefer a more natural-looking yard, this herbaceous plant, with its sunny flowers, can provide a much-needed pop of color among the muted tones of fall.

Allergy sufferers might bristle at the idea of willingly planting goldenrod anywhere near their homes, but their allergic reputation is unearned; airborne pollen is typically the culprit in causing seasonal allergies, and the pollen on these plants is heavy and isn’t spread by the wind.

Goldenrod is a favorite among pollinators, meaning you can expect butterflies to flock to your garden.

3. Pansies

pansies

Pansies are cute little flowers that make great additions to a fall garden due to their love of cooler weather.

Getting a late start on your fall garden? Fill it with pansies, which can be planted in fall and bloom through the fall and even into the winter, depending on your climate. If you plant a hardy variety and keep it healthy, it’s even possible to overwinter them and get them to bloom again in the spring.

4. Sumac

sumac

For your fall shrubbery needs, consider sumac, with its ruby red berry clusters and long, green leaves.

Sumac is relatively low maintenance and does well as long as it’s in well-draining soil and gets a good amount of sun. These plants are expansive and will spread quickly, so they’re best-suited for those with large yards or lots of garden space. To prevent it from getting out of hand, prune frequently.

Once autumn hits, you’re in for a treat when the entire plant, including the leaves, turns fiery oranges and reds.

5. Oakleaf Hydrangeas

oakleaf hydrangeas

If you love the look of hydrangeas and want a variety that you can enjoy for a while, oakleaf hydrangea is the gift that keeps on giving all growing season.

These hydrangeas sprout crisp white blooms in late spring and early summer which slowly take on a pinkish tint later in the season. Then, once fall hits, the leaves of this plant turn beautiful shades of orange, red and purple. This effect can last into winter, meaning these plants aren’t just a great addition to a colorful fall garden, but are also ideal for year-round enjoyment.

6. Ornamental Kale

ornamental kle

These leafy purple plants are just plain fun additions to any autumn garden.

Sometimes referred to as flowering kale, this plant is in the same family as its more edible, health-food-favorite counterpart. In fact, ornamental kale and regular old kale are the same species – ornamental kale, however, was bred to be (you guessed it) ornamental, and has a bitter flavor that makes it ill-suited for consumption.

This hardy plant can hold onto its color into the winter months. You’ll need to wait until mid-summer to start these seeds, as they don’t tolerate heat well.

7. Celosia

celosia

If your fall garden plan involves earth tones and muted colors – celosia isn’t for you. These plants are colorful as can be and sure to brighten up any cold-weather garden setup.

Celosia comes in several different varieties, each one with its own fun and unique shape, from feathery plumes to wrinkled blooms.

What color celosia will you decorate your garden with? Golden yellow, cherry red or vivid pink?

8. Caryopteris

caryopteris

Also known as bluebeard, this lovely flowering plant is a late-season bloomer, meaning you’ll get to enjoy its delightfully blue blooms even as the weather starts to cool.

If you aren’t as into the reds, yellows and oranges of fall, bluebeard offers a calming foil to what is usually a very warm and earthy palette.

Caryopteris is a drought-tolerant plant; take care not to overwater. Give them plenty of sun and well-draining, loose soil.

9. Autumn Joy

autumn joy

The aptly named autumn joy is a type of sedum, a genus of plant that is known for its thick, succulent leaves. The plant’s pink flowers bloom from late summer to fall, attracting bees and other pollinators.

Autumn joy is a hardy and wonderfully low-maintenance plant. It can survive in a wide range of environments and doesn’t like a lot of water. This is another great choice if you’re only just getting started on your fall landscaping, as autumn joy can be planted late in the season as long as you give the plant time to establish itself in your garden before the weather dips below freezing.

10. Japanese Anemone

Japanese anemone

These delicate little darlings almost remind us more of a quintessential spring bloom. So, if you’re looking for a flower that isn’t a typical fall color and won’t let on that the cold season is upon us, this is it.

Despite the appearance that a strong wind could pull these little guys out by the root, Japanese anemone (sometimes referred to as fall-blooming anemone) is a tough plant and will thrive with little maintenance needed on your end.

To ensure you get your autumn bloom, it’s best to plant these in spring, after the last frost.

11. Russian Sage

Russian sage

This dreamy, tall shrub will add a light airiness to wild and wonderful gardens. They’re also a great choice for xeriscaping (a landscaping technique that minimizes the need for water), as they’re incredibly drought-resistant plants.

Plant Russian sage in the late spring in a spot where it can get full sun exposure. Make sure it’s planted in well-draining soil.

12. Dahlias

dahlias

The dahlia is another spunky late bloomer that will provide your garden with much-needed brightness as much of your other foliage wilts or heads into hibernation.

Blooming from midsummer through fall, dahlias come in a variety of vivid colors and many different shapes and sizes.

Long-lasting dahlias can be sort of high-maintenance, since they typically aren’t able to withstand harsh winter months, though some plants in warm climates may be able to overwinter in place. To keep dahlias as perennials, you’ll need to carefully dig up the tubers and store them during winter. If that’s too much work for you, some gardeners simply choose to treat these flowers as annuals, purchasing and planting new ones each season.

The Bottom Line

Just because there’s a chill in the air doesn’t mean you have to stop digging around in the dirt. There are plenty of gorgeous blooms that will last through the fall – in fact, there are many that don’t even hit their peak until other leaves have started to turn.

Keep in mind, however, the importance of planning ahead when it comes to gardening. Though some of the plants listed here are flexible enough for a last-minute planting, if you want a healthy, long-lasting garden that inspires and impresses for many falls to come, you’ll need to think strategically and start your fall planting once spring hits.

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Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.