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posted: 9/23/2012 6:00 AM

Art in the garden: Reliable perennials extend the color in the fall landscape

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  • Miscanthus floridulus shows fall color.

      Miscanthus floridulus shows fall color.

 
By Diana Stoll
The Planter’s Palette

If you want to add the beauty of fall color to your landscape but don't have room for an Autumn Blaze maple, plant perennials that feature showy autumnal foliage colors. It's another way to keep the garden in full color well past Labor Day.

Willow amsonia, or Amsonia tabernaemontana, is a generous-sized perennial native to the United States. Its steel blue flower clusters make a charming display in early summer and its green willow-like leaves are attractive throughout the summer.

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In fall, those leaves turn a gorgeous golden yellow. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide and performs best in full sun and well-drained soil.

Another blue-flowering perennial that offers outstanding fall color is leadwort, botanically known as Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. Its gentian blue flowers glow against the bronze-scarlet foliage.

Leadwort is useful as a ground cover or as a front-of-the-border plant. It is late to emerge in the spring so be sure not to disturb its roots or accidentally dig it up. It benefits from a light layer of mulch for the winter.

Perennial geraniums are not only star performers throughout the summer with their long-blooming flower show, but come fall, some varieties of perennial geraniums put on a striking display when the foliage turns orange or ruby red.

Commonly called cranesbills, they are adaptable plants. They blend easily with other shrubs and perennials and are often used as ground covers. The types with the most stunning orange and red fall color are Geranium sanguineum, G. himalayense, and G. dalmaticum.

The shiny, cabbage-like foliage of Bergenia is why most gardeners choose this perennial for the front of their shady borders. Showy flower clusters in spring add to its appeal, but the dazzling bronzy-red leaves in autumn create a wonderful carpet of color that lasts well into winter. Its broad leaves contrast nicely with fine textured plants like Astilbe and ferns.

Purple wintercreeper, or Euonymus coloratus, is a dependable ground cover that changes into a blanket of rich reddish purple in fall. This is a fairly vigorous grower that is useful for covering areas under trees or along slopes in sun or shade.

The strong lines that grasses offer to the landscape are accentuated in the fall when the foliage of some varieties turn striking shades of orange, red and purple. While many ornamental grasses turn a warm tawny shade, providing a nice complement to the drying seed heads of coneflowers and sedums, look for some of the Miscanthus varieties that dazzle with color. November Sunset turns yellow-orange while Purpurescens glows purple-red. The Miscathus floridulus in my own yard turns a lovely tawny-orange.

Some of our native prairie grasses put on the best show -- the bluish-green foliage of switch grass turns golden yellow; prairie dropseed turns orangish-red. The native purple love grass is particularly useful in small gardens since it maintains its height at 1 to 2 feet with airy purple flowers complementing its reddish leaves in fall.

Ornamental grasses display their best fall color when they are planted in full sun.

Plant a few of these perennials known for their fall foliage color. They will not only offer beautiful blooms or fabulous form earlier in the season, they will keep your landscape ablaze throughout the fall.

Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040 or visit planterspalette.com.

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