Top plants for your fall garden
Our picks for the very best bulbs, greens, trees, and more to set out now for a vibrant garden come spring
Freesia. Fragrant blossoms come in white, yellow, red, lavender, and orange. Set corms 2 inches deep and 2 inches apart. Plants disappear in summer (don’t water then). Sunset climate zones 8, 9, 12–24.
Narcissus. These bloom in many sizes and shapes, mainly in shades of white to yellow. Try ‘Inbal’ and ‘Ziva’ for fragrance, ‘Gigantic Star’ for impact, or ‘Minnow’ for tiny blooms. Plant 6 to 8 inches apart. Zones A2, A3, 1–24.
Japanese maple. Choices include ‘Shaina’ (5 ft. tall; red foliage) and ‘Sango Kaku’ (25 ft. tall; yellow leaves).
Gingko. Fan-shaped leaves of this shapely tree (to 35 ft. tall or more) turn brilliant buttery yellow.
Chinese pistache (pictured). A good patio tree; 30 to 60 ft. tall, with luminous leaflets of orange and yellow to scarlet in fall.
Redbud. Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ grows 25 to 35 ft. tall; autumn leaves are yellow to red.
Many are rich in nectar or seeds that attract birds and butterflies, and some smell like the aromatic wild shrubs fringing your favorite hiking trails. All give the garden a sense of place. Use them to create an all-native backyard ecosystem mimicking your region’s indigenous plant communities, or mix natives with compatible plants that take the same conditions.
Start with young container-grown plants that aren’t rootbound; they may not be much to look at when first planted, but they’ll adapt more successfully than larger plants. Water thoroughly after planting, then carefully and steadily for the first summer or two. After that, many should do well with little or no supplemental water.
Here are some of our favorite natives from around the West:
The leaves of perennial foliage plants range from green to colorful enough to brighten any garden. One of our favorite foliage workhorses is heuchera, which comes in a variety of leaf shapes, from rounded to ruffled to scalloped, with colors ranging from burgundy, caramel, apricot, and bronze to vibrant chartreuse. The low perennials—about 1 to 3 feet tall and wide—are perfect in containers and borders. Give them full to part sun and regular water.
Pictured are some more favorites, clockwise from top left: 'Encore,' 'Lime Marmalade,' 'Neptune,' 'Kassandra,' 'Can Can,' and 'Crème Brûlée.’
In much of the West in spring, wildflowers carpet whole hillsides with brilliant blooms of yellow, orange, pink, blue, and white—especially after a rainy winter. You see annuals with willowy stems and crepe paper–thin petals that glow in sunlight. And you see tough perennials that have thick petals saturated with color. But you don’t need a roadtrip to find wildflowers—they grow in garden beds and even in containers. Buy a seed mix designed for your climate; an ounce of seed can cover 100 square feet. Broadcast the seeds over weed-free soil in a sunny spot, following package instructions. Lightly rake the soil to cover the seeds. Oh, and pray for rain!
12 garden-friendly wildflowers:
- Blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum),
- California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
- Corn cockle (Agrostemma githago)
- Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii)
- Perennial blue flax (Linum perenne),
- Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata)
- California desert bluebells (Phacelia campanularia)
- Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
- Godetia (Clarkia amoena)
- Lupine (Lupinus succulentus)
- Tidytips (Layia platyglossa),
- Wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata)