From the August/September 2012 Issue:

Fantastic Fall Flowers

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge |

Plant these perennials once, and they will brighten your landscape for years to come

Many landscapes lose their oomph in September, but fall-blooming perennials streeeetch the color for a couple more months. Plant them whenever the soil is workable, spring to fall, but blooms will be limited or nonexistent when planted late. And be patient: The adage about perennials is oh-so-true: The first year they sleep, the second they creep, and the third they leap.

We asked plant pros Mike Azzolini of Sickles Market in Little Silver, Harry Geddings of Bluumes Garden Design in Old Bridge and Peg Reynolds of Reynolds Garden shop in Manahawkin to pick their favorite returning fall flowers. Their list includes details about strengths and weaknesses. Except as noted, most require average soil fertility, well-draining soil, full sun and moderate moisture. Geddings recommends running sprinklers 10 minutes a day for fall-blooming perennials, although many are drought-tolerant once established.

Anemones: Fall-blooming Anemone hupehensis makes a great cut flower. Most stay about 3 feet tall but when in bloom can reach 5 feet. The 2-to-3-inch flowers sway in the breeze, giving rise to their nickname, wind flowers. Colors range from dark purple and deep pink to white; flowers are single to double. They like light to medium shade but can tolerate full sun as long as the soil stays moist. Deer-resistant.

Butterfly bush: Most of these shrubby perennials, more properly named buddleia, can reach 15 feet in height, but Geddings recommends keeping them at eye level so you can easily see the fragrant purple, red and lavender flower clusters. ‘Royal Red’ (deep rosy pink with touches of red), ‘Black Knight’ (deep purple) and the Lo & Behold™ (purple) collection rank among our experts’ favorite varieties. Give them room to sprawl; these plants can spread 6 to 9 feet, although miniature varieties are just 20 inches high and wide. Deer-resistant.

Chrysanthemums: Reynolds loves the compact Belgian varieties (available in many colors) that are extremely prolific bloomers and require little or no pruning. When they’re first planted, keep the soil moist, Reynolds cautions, and pinch out flower buds until early July for a bounty of fall flowers on 18-inch-tall plants that spread up to 24 inches. Geddings gives mums demerits because, in their second growing season, most tend to be too leggy. Deer-resistant.

Day lilies: Reblooming varieties such as bright-yellow ‘Stella de Oro,’ if deadheaded, will cycle in and out of bloom from spring through November. But for a day lily that stays in bloom and is a brilliant red (with a yellow center), Azzolini recommends ‘Earlybird Cardinal.’ They’re typically 2 feet tall and wide. Day lilies are deer favorites.

Hardy hibiscus: Geddings loves these “dinner-plate hibiscus.” Scientifically named Hibiscus moscheutos, they’re the bling of fall and grow in sun and shade. Blossoms on the 4-to-6-foot-tall plants (space 2 feet apart) reach 10 inches in diameter and last one day. Geddings loves red ‘Fireball’ as well as deep-pink varieties. Keep soil consistently moist. Deer-resistant.

Helenium: This rugged plant can take a bit of shade or full sun. Colors and bicolors include yellows, oranges, browns and reds. Helenium is typically 2 to 3 feet tall and about 2 feet wide. Poisonous. Deer-resistant.

Hosta plantaginea: Its August-September flowers are 6 inches long and sweetly fragrant. The plant grows about 15 inches tall and wide, tolerates dense shade, attracts hummingbirds and can be used as cut flowers, making this plant an Azzolini favorite. Deer adore hostas.

Liriope: Variegated and solid-green varieties of this grass-like plant sprout lavender or white flower spikes in fall. Great in shade; 10 to 18 inches tall and wide. Cut back in early spring for pristine new leaf blades. Deer-resistant.

Phlox paniculata: Azzolini and Reynolds like the fragrant, mildew-resistant ‘David’ garden phlox that can be a cut flower. White blossom clusters, which attract butterflies and hummingbirds, adorn 42-inch-tall plants from summer into fall; space 3 feet apart. ‘David’ collapses after the first frost. Deer-resistant.

Miscanthus: The ‘Morning Light’ variety of this ornamental grass is an Azzolini favorite. It has striped foliage with pinkish blooms (drying to golden-beige) that offer landscape interest throughout winter; 4 to 6 feet tall and 30 to 48 inches wide. Deer-resistant.

Montauk daisy: This daisy — white petals surrounding a golden-yellow center — grows 2 to 3 feet tall and has an 18-inch spread. Its late-summer to early-fall blooms attract bees, butterflies and birds. Its scientific name is Nipponanthemum nipponicum, giving rise to its nickname, Nippon daisy. Give it full sun or a little shade; don’t overwater. Some people like the fragrance and some loathe it. Deer-resistant.

Pennisetum: This fountain grass is one of several ornamental grasses that come into their glory in fall with plume-like blooms that dry and remain pretty through the winter. ‘Hameln’ (2 feet tall) and ‘Little Bunny’ (18 inches) are two popular perennial varieties. ‘Karley Rose’ (3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide) has rose-purple flowers from June to frost. Some pennisetum varieties (such as ‘Rubrum’) will not survive New Jersey winters. Deer-resistant.

Rudbeckia: There are many varieties of yellow-blooming rudbeckia or black-eyed Susan, but two Garden State favorites are ‘Herbstonne’ (6 feet tall, 3 feet wide) and ‘Goldsturm’ (2 to 3 feet tall, 18 inches wide). They typically begin blooming in summer and continue to frost. Deer may eat tender spring foliage; generally deer-resistant.

Sweet autumn clematis: Also known as clematis paniculata (with the Latin name Clematis ternifolia), this vine will produce hundreds of fragrant star-shaped white flowers on the current year’s growth. Although this clematis can sprawl 30 feet, it can be pruned. Geddings says they’re especially beautiful on a pergola or fence. They can take some shade. Poisonous. Deer-resistant.

Turtlehead (chelone): This shade-lover blooms in pink and red. It’s 2 to 3 feet tall and needs 1-foot spacing. Keep the soil moist (or even wet). Deer will eat chelone.

New Jersey gardening specialists Peg Reynolds of Reynolds Garden shop in Manahawkin, Harry Geddings of Bluumes Garden Design in Old Bridge and Mike Azzolini of Sickles Market in Little Silver didn’t agree on every fall-blooming perennial for the list. Some that just missed the cut include:
• Arugula, which produces delicate pale-yellow flowers in fall.
• Asters (lavender), which are susceptible to powdery mildew and have weak stems that bend in moderate to high winds.
• Coreopsis, which has yellow flowers and reblooms if deadheaded.
• Echinacea, a rugged coneflower available in many colors (white, lavender, scarlet and orange), will continue blooming in fall if deadheaded.
• Gaillardia, or blanketflower, which has red or red-and-yellow blossoms in summer and supposedly will rebloom in fall if deadheaded. (Azzolini says he’s never seen them rebound well in fall.)
• Goldenrod, which can become invasive because it so freely reseeds.
• Helianthus, a perennial sunflower that can be used in floral arrangements and attracts butterflies.
• Joe-Pye weed, which produces pink flower clusters on tall (up to 5 feet) stalks. Blooms typically end in late summer/early fall.
• Russian sage, a.k.a. perovskia, a fine-textured shrub-like perennial with lavender flower spikes.
• Scabiosa, which begins producing its lavender, pink or white blooms in early spring. Output declines in late summer/September.
• Verbenas such as ‘Homestead Purple,’ which often won’t survive a harsh New Jersey winter.

Mary Vinnedge, a regular contributor to Design NJ, writes from her home in Texas.

Montauk daisy, a.k.a. Nippon daisy, is the classic loves-me, loves-me-not flower.
Photo by KENPEI

Turtlehead (chelone), which needs shade, is a native plant.
Photo by Mason Brock

‘Stella de Oro’ day lilies (dwarf variety pictured) cycle in and out of bloom several times from spring to fall. Deadheading encourages reblooming.
Courtesy of Monrovia

‘Miss Molly’ buddleia is true to the perennial’s nickname: butterfly bush.
Courtesy of Wood of Spring Meadow Nursery

Wind flowers, Anemone hupehensis, sway with the breeze above the foliage.
G.A. Cooper/USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Hardy hibiscus has huge blossoms ranging from white to pink to deep red. Shown are ‘Stardust’ (pink) and ‘Fireball.’
Courtesy of Monrovia

‘Hameln’ (pronounced ham-lin) fountain grass, a pennisetum variety, produces plumelike blooms that are still pretty when dry and dormant during winter.
Courtesy of Monrovia

‘Blue Chip,’ from the Lo & Behold™ buddleia (butterfly bush) collection, makes a pretty border plant or low hedge.
Courtesy of

A mass of ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia functions as a hedge to provide a sense of abundance in a planting bed.
Courtesy of