Late summer can be wonderful
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in a garden that includes late-blooming perennials. These
species come on with fresh color just when we've gotten tired of
what's been there for months. Many continue well into fall, after
frosts have begun to erase the annual color.
Here are a few you should consider adding, all hardy to zone 5
Oh, so many species and varieties, from August blooming
Aster novae-angliae (pictured here; it's available in many
colors and in heights from 18 inches to six feet) to the aster that
waits as long as its name suggests to spangle a garden with tiny
white flowers like baby's breath -- that's frost aster (Aster
pilosus). Bees and butterflies love them, and if you can put
off deadheading and put up with post-bloom shagginess the birds
will reward you by brightening your garden as they pluck the seeds.
With about 200 native North American aster species, chances are
good that at least one belongs in your area, so your planting will
also contribute to the local ecology.
Unfortunately rabbits, deer and groundhogs enjoy asters, too,
but you can play this card to your benefit. Cage the plants in
spring using small-opening wire mesh as tall as you want the
finished plant. The browsers will nip it off above and outside the
cage, effectively pinching it for you so it blooms a bit later and
not too tall!
A note for the technically accurate gardener: Almost
every North American aster has suffered a name change recently.
This one big genus was split into many! Soon, hard copy references
will list them as on-line resources already do, under
Symphyotrichum (Aster novae-angliae became
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae in this geneticist-driven
shuffle), Eucephalus, Eurybia,
Oreostemma, Almutaster, Ampelaster,
Canadanthus, Chlorocantha, Doellingeria,
Machaeranthera, Oclemena and
Sericocarpus. Fortunately name change protocol dictates
that authors list both old and new name for years so Aster
will still be listed for some time to come.
asters on our Aster page...)
Blue mist flower
(Conoclinum caeruleum; syn. Eupatorium
coelestinum, zone 5)
It's powder blue in August, smelling of grapes, late to emerge
from dormancy but 18" tall at bloom timet and thus perfect for
covering up after spring bulbs. Who can dislike blue mist flower?
People who want plants to stay put, that's who. We love this plant
but others say, "Oh, but it spreads so!"
Indeed it does spread, so use it as a groundcover and rejoice in
its mat of shallow, easily identified white roots as you dig out
the excess after it's overstepped its bounds.
Above: Even as the flowers age the blue hangs on, extending
the season of interest.
(Lespedeza species, zone 5)
Sturdy, upright, shrub-like perennials, the bush clovers provide
a clean background for earlier bloomers, then come on in fall with
sprays of pea flowers in pink or white. Lespedeza
thunbergii is normally 5 feet tall or more, narrow and upright
until bloom and then a fountain of arching canes at bloom time. The
dwarf Lespedeza bicolor 'Yakushima' is better suited for small
Below, left: Purple bush clover (Lespedeza
Above, right: Lobelia x speciosa, a hybrid created by
crossing cardinal flower and great blue lobelia
Cardinal flower, great blue lobelia and their
Native Americans called Lobelia
cardinalis "red birds" since a cardinal with spread wings
and fanned tail can be seen in each flower on the spike. In
woodlands throughout eastern North America, cardinal flower blooms
in late July and August alongside great blue lobelia (named Lobelia
siphilitica when Europeans noticed it being used by some
natives in attempts to cure syphilis -- an unsuccessful
application). Complex crosses between the two an another lobelia to
produce plants with red-violet and blue-violet flowers and a long
Cardinal flower prefers moist sites
while great blue lobelia is more amenable to drier soils.
Blue sage, Pitcher sage
Given other plants to lean on, or a trellis, the North American
native blue sage (Salvia azurea) may be 5' tall when it blooms in
September and October. Most people are charmed by the color, even
if the plant is left to sprawl to 18" and five feet wide.
(Tricyrtis species, zone 5)
Give them shade and be prepared to be delighted as the upright
stems begin to spread in a graceful spray by late summer, to
display orchid-like flowers all along their length. Many types.
They spread by shallow running root so be prepared to give some
away if you put it where it is truly happy, in the cool shade.
Every plant should be so clear in its communication as toad
lily. Grown in too much sun and heat, the plant remains upright and
leaf edges scorch.
More late summer- and fall blooming perennials
Look for these at your garden center, farm market or in a
S = Sun (6+ hours per day),
HS = Half Shade (4-6 hours sun daily)
SH = Shade, 2-4 hours sun daily
M = Moist soil; water whenever top inch dries
A = Average soil moisture, may dry down to several inches deep
W = Wet soil, never dries
Allium species (flowering onion); white/pink;
18-24"; S - SH; M; can be invasive by seed; (curly chives A.
senescens, garlic chives A. sativa)
Artemisia species (wormwood); insignificant
flower; 1-5'; S; M, A - D; for grey foliage
Astilbe c. pumila (Dwarf astilbe); pink; 18"; HS,
SH; M, A - W; spreads more than other astilbe
Blackberry lily (Belamcanda
chinensis); orange+; 3-4'; S ; M; each flower lasts one day
(candy lily is related x Pardancanda norrisii which is
available in many colors)
Blackeye Susan (Rudbeckia species); yellow; 3'; S; M, A
- D; self-seeds rapidly
Boltonia (Boltonia asteroides); white, pink; 3-6'; S,
HS; M, W
Chrysanthemum (Dendranthema varieties) ; many colors;
1-4'; S; M; many types are not hardy; many bloom late only if
Clematis species (Virgin's Bower); many colors;
8-30'; HS, S; M, W; shade roots but top needs sun; deadhead
large-flowered hybrids; later species (such as C.
viticella) are smaller flowered; among the latest to bloom are
C. heracleifolia davidiana (fragrant blue bush clematis)
and sweet autumn clematis (C. terniflora, invasive by
Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum); white;
4'; S - HS; M, W; may need staking if soil is not moist
Daylily - late hybrids (Hemerocallis) many
colors; 1-4'; S - HS; M, A;
yellow - 'September Gold', 'Golden Prize'
pink: 'Halls' Pink', 'Rhapsody in Pink'
Red: 'Poin Set'
Fall fairy candle (Cimicifuga simplex); white; 24-30";
HS - SH; M
Goldenrod (Solidago species); yellow; 18" - 4'; S - HS,
M, A; some species/types are invasive. Not an
Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium); flat, green;
2'; S - HS; M, D - A
Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens); creamy;
2-3'; S - HS; M, A; neat; vertical; almost evergreen
Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis); white; 3-6'; S - HS;
L; big show in winter; early blooming varieties may be invasive by
Perennial fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides);
silvery pink; 2-3'; S; M, A; invasive by seed; don't confuse it
with tender Pennisetum species such as red fountain
Greyheaded coneflower (Ratibida laciniata);
yellow; 4-5'; S; M; needs stakes or sturdy grass to lean on
Hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos); red, pink, white;
3-5'; S; M, W; makes a late start in spring - that bare space can
be occupied by bulbs
Hosta plantaginea (old August lily); white; 2';
HS - SH; M; fragrant flower
Japanese wax bell (Kirengeshoma palmata); pale yellow;
to 3'; HS - SH; A, W; beautiful foliage
Japanese anemone (Anemone hybrida); white, pink; 2-3';
HS; M, A; blooms later in more shade
Joe Pye (Eupatorium species); violet, white; 3-6'; S;
M, A to W by species;
E. maculatum (Joe Pye weed), E. perfoliatum
Late gentian (Gentiana septemfida); blue; to 18"; S,
HS; M, W
Monkshood (Aconitum, late species
especially A. carmichaelii, A. wilsonii, A.
fischerii); blue; 2-4'; HS, S; M, A; poisonous (all parts,
Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana, false
dragonshead); pink, white; 2-3' ; S - SH; M, A; can be invasive
(variegated type less so); white variety blooms weeks before
Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis spp. A.
margaritacea, A. yedoensis, A.
triplinervis); white; 12" - 3'; S; M, A - D; dries in place;
eaten early summer by American painted Lady butterfly (which
Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides); blue; 12"; SH -
S; M, A; fall color; emerges late, covers spring bulbs
Sea holly (Eryngium species E. giganteum,
E. oliverianum); silver-blue; 3-4'; S; M. D; flowers will
dry in place
Sedum x Autumn Joy (Hylotelephium
spectabile, Cabbage Rose) pinks; 18" - 24"; S - HS; M; good
cover over summer dormants
Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis); blue; 18"; S - HS; M,
A; neat mounded plant, good blue
Tall phlox (Phlox paniculata, P. maculata);
pink, white; 3-4'; HS - S; M; fragrant; many types susceptible to
Turtlehead (Chelone species); pink, white; 3'; HS, S;
M, W; steady if slow spread but not truly invasive
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as well as unique perennials are appreciated
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