Is your perennial garden winding down along with the summer? Now is a great time to spark up the border with some late-flowering perennials. Take a stroll through your favorite garden center to see the many hardy perennials that put on their best show of color from late summer into fall.
If daisylike flowers are your favorites, you have several excellent choices. Try some pink, purple, white or blue asters for a pretty pop of color. They bloom with a profusion of small, yellow-centered, daisylike flowers in late summer to fall, and they range in size from dwarf varieties just 12 inches tall to garden giants up to 4 feet tall. Boltonia has a similar look, with pink or white daisy flowers on 3 to 4-foot plants. Most of the blooms are borne at the top part of this plant, so place it in a spot at the back of the border.
Helenium (sneezeweed) has larger, daisylike flowers about 2 inches wide and is available in a variety of autumnal shades, from rich gold to deep red-bronze. Equally attractive in the border or as a cut flower, most varieties grow from 2 to 3 feet tall.
Choose Physostegia (obedient plant) if you want a plant with an upright habit. This plant gets its common name from the tendency of its snapdragon-like flower spikes to stay in the position they are bent. Blooms start in August and continue through September in shades of white, lavender and pink.
Physostegia is attractive to butterflies and makes an excellent cut flower, too. Some varieties are prone to spreading. For a well-behaved variety, check out Miss Manners -- a white-blooming variety that stays neatly in clumps.
One of my personal late-blooming favorites is Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (leadwort). This attractive plant grows only about 8 to 12 inches tall and works well as a ground cover or at the front of a border. Its glossy green foliage is topped with gentian blue flowers from mid August into October. As the season progresses the foliage takes on red tones -- a stunning contrast to the blooms.
For a moist spot in the garden, consider planting some Eupatorium. There is a Joe-pye weed for everyone from Baby Joe -- just 2 to 3 feet tall -- to Atropurpureum, towering over the garden at 6 to 7 feet tall. They bear showy clusters of mauve ageratum-like flowers from late summer through September. Butterflies love them all.
For a drier area, check out Heliopsis (false sunflower). This long-blooming perennial is drought tolerant once established. It starts flowering in July and continues well into September, bringing brilliant yellow and gold shades into the flower border. Flowers attract butterflies and have a long vase life.
Sedum Autumn Joy, with its impressive dark pink flower heads and sturdy succulent foliage, is a fall classic in many gardens. Many other Sedum varieties are worthy of planting, too. Neon is a newer variety with bright pink flowers. Try Purple Emperor for its striking black-purple foliage and contrasting dusty pink flowers. Butterflies and bees love the flowers from mid summer to fall.
Solidago (goldenrod) is often falsely maligned for causing hay fever because it blooms at the same time as the real culprit -- ragweed, but it is a hardy and showy perennial that deserves a spot in your garden. Its flowers are a brilliant golden yellow -- perfect for fall. They cut well, too, so add some to fall arrangements.
If your shade garden is short on sizzle, spark it up with some Japanese Anemones. These beautiful perennials prefer a semi-shaded site. Their showy flowers start blooming in late August to September and continue throughout the fall. The exquisite single or double blooms in shades of pink or white are borne profusely on wiry stems above handsome, dark green, clump-forming foliage.
Chelone (turtlehead) is a long-blooming perennial with robust pink to white snapdragon-like flowers on sturdy stems. Attractive to hummingbirds, it thrives in moist, partially shaded sites and grows 2 to 3 feet tall.
Trycirtis (toad lily) is a little-known perennial that deserves more attention. It bears its exotic, often spotted, orchid-like flowers in late August to September. Plant toad lilies close to the house or a walkway so you can enjoy their lovely flowers up close.
With careful selection of a few fall-blooming perennials, you can keep your landscape in full color well into fall!
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040, ext. 2, or visit planterspalette.com.