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Falling for Foliage

A Roundup of Magical Autumn Plants


Summer is waning and the garden is beginning to fade, but that doesnt mean it cant still pack a lot of punch. The go-to perennials for autumn color include chrysanthemums (some are more hardy than others) and asters. With a range of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees, you can make magic in your late-season garden. Consider adding some of the following plants to your garden this fall.

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

The odd common name comes from the former practice of using the dried leaves for snuff. The snuff was used to induce sneezing to rid the body of evil spirits (but the plant can be toxic, so dont try this today). The late-summer and early-fall blooms range in color from yellow to burnt orange and rust. Check out named varieties such as Mardi Gras, Sahins Early Flowerer, and Canary with heights varying from 25 tall.

Aster Raydons Favorite(Symphyotrichum oblongifolium var. angustatusRaydons Favorite)

While most asters sport masses of dime-sized flowers, Raydons Favorite gives you two-and-a-half times the value with quarter-sized purple-blue blossoms that cover the plant. This workhorse perennial is compact in form, growing 1824 tall, and performs with enthusiasm in even the worst soils and weather. All these qualities earned Raydons Favorite the 2016 Garden Plant of the Year award from the Garden Club of America.


This old-fashioned perennial has vivid violet-blue, hooded flowers that appear in mid-autumn. An erect plant that stands 4 feet tall, its dark green leaves are palmate and deeply lobed, making a dramatic statement even when not in flower. All parts of the plant are toxic, hence the Greek name, Aconitum, which means unconquerable poison. Another common name is wolfsbane because it was used to poison wolves.

Bugbane (Actaea simplex Hillside Black Beauty, formerly Cimicifuga simplex)

The common name points to the fact that this striking plant will keep bugs at bay due to its odoriferous insect repellant properties. Visually most effective when planted in clusters, the ferny, purple- to bronze-tinted foliage grows 2 tall, making a striking statement all summer long. Prepare to be dazzled in September and October when the 46 tall, fluffy, white flower spires shoot up from the plants, contrasting beautifully against the dark foliage. You and the butterflies will enjoy the display. The plants, which are hardy from USDA zones 48, prefer partial to full shade. In the Pacific Northwest, consider growing the native bugbane,Actaea elata.

Blueberry (Vaccinum spp.)

Enjoy three seasons of delight with blueberries. In spring, dainty, bell-shaped flowers hang from the branches. Later in summer, you can savor the delicious, nutrient-rich fruit (an extra bonus is if you grow them without pesticides or other poisons). In fall, the leaves turn orange, yellow, or wine red. Choose northern or southern types, depending on where you live (check with your local nursery for advice). All northern varieties have brilliant fall color; for the best color for southern varieties, opt for the V. corymbosum ONeal and Jubilee hybrids. Blueberries have a wide climate range from USDA zones 510.

Late-summer and early-fall blooms range in color from yellow to burnt orange and rust.

(Helenium autumnale)

Photography provided by iStockphoto.com/Anna Yu.

Best Native Trees & Shrubs for Autumn Foliage

1Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum), USDA zones 410, orange-red color, mature height 5070, spread 25

2Red Maple (Acer rubrum), USDA zones 39, red autumn foliage, mature height 4060, spread 40

3Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) USDA zones 39, fall display of various shades of yellow, orange, bright red, and purple, often on the same branch, mature height 3050, spread 30

4Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) USDA zones 59 fall foliage yellow, red or even purple, mature height 2530, spread 20

5Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) USDA zones 49, deep orange, scarlet, purple, and yellow in fall, mature height 3060, spread 2540

6Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), USDA zones 38, yellow leaves in early autumn, spidery flowers in late autumn, early winter, mature height 1530, spread 1520

7Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora Autumn Brilliance), USDA zones 49, brilliant red to orange-red fall foliage, mature height and spread 1525

8Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), USDA zones 49, white apple blossom-like flowers in spring; red fruits in late summer and autumn; and brilliant orange-red fall foliage, mature height 10, spread 6

9Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), USDA zones 59, star-shaped leaves turn red, orange, and burgundy in fall, mature height 6080, spread 4060

10Fothergilla (Fothergilla major), USDA zones 58 fragrant, white, bottlebrush-like spring flowers, warm gold and orange foliage in fall, mature height and spread 6

The Nancy Hughes Group

The Nancy Hughes Group




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