Flowers for late summer color

Long-lasting beauties deliver blooms late in the season, when gardens need them most
Sharon Cohoon

"The fullness of late summer and early fall ought to be one of the richest seasons in the garden," says Mary McBride, a horticulturist at Tom Piergrossi Landscape Nursery in Vista, California.

But - and this is one of McBride's pet peeves - that's when most gardens look their worst. Summer annuals and vegetables are spent; spring-blooming perennials are growing leggy and are in need of cutting back. This time of year, when the weather is often at its most glorious and we're most inclined to linger outdoors at day's end, what do we see? Hardly a flower.

Don't blame it on Mother Nature, chides McBride. Plenty of perennials peak during this period. Their flowers come mostly in colors with character: Golden yellows that stand up to strong sun now, then later in the season burn like embers under gray skies - gloriosa daisies, coreopsis, and goldenrod, for example.

Coppers, rusts, and wine reds that forecast the shades of falling leaves, such as the flowers on Sedum 'Autumn Joy', purple coneflower, or sneezeweed (Helenium) hybrids.

And lots of soulful violet blues - asters, Russian sage, salvias. Colorado garden writer Lauren Springer calls this palette of burnished tones and blues "the colors of autumn in America."

Why don't we see these beauties in more gardens? Call it the catch-22 syndrome. If you saw them, you'd want them. But to see them, you have to visit nurseries now - not next spring.

If you buy and plant some of the perennials listed here this month, you'll get pleasure from them immediately. Then, next year, promises McBride, your garden will be even better: "Plants will be twice the size, so you'll get twice the display."

 

 

FOR THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST AND ALASKA

Aster. A. x frikartii 'Mönch' is on everyone's top 10 list of lavender blue perennials; plants grow to 2 feet. Sunset climate zones 2b-7, 17. New England aster (A. novae-angliae) has mostly blue flowers. 'Alma Potschke', an old favorite, bears salmon pink blooms. Grows to 3 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17. Flowers of Michaelmas daisy (A. novi-belgii) come mostly in shades of blue. 'Climax' has true blue flowers. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17.

Boltonia asteroides. Bears white, pink, or blue flowers on plants 5 to 6 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17.

Chrysanthemum. Florist's chrysanthemum (C. x morifolium) bears flowers in many colors, from rust and wine red to orange and golden yellow. Grows 1 to 6 feet, depending on variety. Zones 2-7, 17. C. x rubellum flowers come in various colors; 'Clara Curtis' is bright, clear pink. Grows 2 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17.

Coreopsis. C. lanceolata bears yellow flowers on plants 1 to 2 feet tall. C. verticillata has yellow, daisylike blooms; 'Moonbeam' produces pale yellow blooms. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17.

Daylily (Hemerocallis hybrids). Comes in various colors; look for reblooming or late varieties. Takes partial shade in hottest climates. Standard kinds grow 2 1/2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17.

False dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana). Flower spikes are 10 inches tall, densely set with funnel-shaped, bluish pink blooms. Zones 1-7, 17, A3.

Globe thistle (Echinops). Golf ball-size flowers look like blue pincushions above deeply cut gray blue leaves on plants 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17, A2-A3.

Goldenrod (Solidago). Bears feathery yellow bloom clusters atop 2- to 3-foot plants. Zones 1-7, 17.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum). Bears big domes of pale purple flowers on 3- to 9-foot-tall plants. 'Gateway' grows to 6 feet tall with mauve flowers. Zones 1-7, 17.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Lavender pink, daisylike blooms with bristly, mounding centers. 'Magnus' grows to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17, A2-A3.

Rudbeckia. R. fulgida 'Goldsturm' bears golden yellow blooms on 3-foot-tall plants. Gloriosa daisy (R. hirta) grows 3 to 4 feet tall. 'Indian Summer' has single to double golden yellow flowers. Zones 1-7, 17.

Russian sage (Perovskia). Velvety, lavender blue flowers grow on 3- to 4-foot-tall plants. Zones 2-7, 17.

Salvia. S. x superba has violet blue blooms on 3-foot plants. Zones 1-7, 17. S. x sylvestris 'May Night' features violet blue blooms on 2-foot plants. Zones 2-7, 17. S. nemerosa 'East Friesland' bears spikes of violet blue flowers on plants 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall. Zones 2-7, 17. S. verticillata 'Purple Rain' has violet blooms on 2 1/2-foot plants. Zones 2-7, 17.

Sedum. S. spectabile and S. telephium 'Autumn Joy' bear flowers in shades of rust to pink on plants 1 to 2 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17.

Sneezeweed (Helenium hybrids). Flowers in red orange. 'Moerheim Beauty' is coppery red. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Zones 1-7, 17.

Wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata). A profusion of purplish red, mallow-type flowers on spreading plants to 6 inches tall. Zones 1-3, 7, 17.

Yarrow (Achillea). Flowers come in various colors, including salmon and rusty red. A. filipendulina 'Coronation Gold' and A. 'Moonshine' have yellow blooms. Grows 4 inches to 5 feet tall, depending on species. Zones 1-17, A1-A3.

 

 

FOR NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Unless otherwise noted, all prefer full sun.

Aster. A. x frikartii 'Mönch' is on everyone's top 10 list of lavender blue perennials; plants grow to 2 feet. Sunset climate zones 2b-24. New England aster (A. novae-angliae) has mostly blue flowers. 'Alma Potschke', an old favorite, bears salmon pink blooms. Grows to 3 feet tall. Zones 1-24. Flowers of Michaelmas daisy (A. novi-belgii) come mostly in shades of blue; 'Climax' has true blue flowers. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Boltonia asteroides. Bears white, pink, or blue flowers on plants 5 to 6 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Chrysanthemum. Florist's chrysanthemum (C. x morifolium) has flowers in many colors, from rust and wine red to orange and golden yellow. Grows 1 to 6 feet, depending on variety. Zones 2-24. C. x rubellum flowers come in various colors; 'Clara Curtis' is bright, clear pink. Grows 2 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Coreopsis. C. lanceolata bears yellow flowers on plants 1 to 2 feet tall. C. verticillata has yellow, daisy-like blooms; 'Moonbeam' produces pale yellow blooms. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Daylily (Hemerocallis hybrids). Comes in various colors; look for reblooming or late varieties. Takes partial shade in hottest climates. Standard kinds grow 2 1/2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Garden penstemon (P. x gloxinioides). Many kinds and colors bloom most heavily in spring but will repeat in fall if you cut back plants after flowering. Blooms range from fire engine red to deep purple to pale pink, depending on variety. Plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 6-9, 14-24.

Gaillardia x grandiflora. Daisylike flowers in golden yellows, reds, and bicolors. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-24, H1-H2.

Goldenrod (Solidago). Bears feathery yellow bloom clusters atop 2- to 3-foot plants. Zones 1-11, 14-23.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Lavender pink, daisylike blooms with bristly, mounding centers. 'Magnus' grows to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-24, A2-A3.

Rudbeckia. R. fulgida 'Goldsturm' bears golden yellow blooms on 3-foot-tall plants. Gloriosa daisy (R. hirta) grows 3 to 4 feet tall. 'Indian Summer' has single to double golden yellow flowers. Zones 1-24.

Salvia. Many kinds bloom in late summer and early fall. Anise-scented sage (S. guaranitica) bears cobalt blue flowers, attractive to hummingbirds, on plants 4 to 5 feet tall. It can take partial shade in hot climates. Zones 8-9, 14-24. Autumn sage (S. greggii) flecks itself with flowers in many shades of red, white, and rose on shrubby, 1- to 4-foot plants. Zones 8-24. S. azurea grandiflora bears azure flowers, grows to 5 feet tall, and needs support. Zones 1-24. Eyelash sage (S. blepharophylla) puts out spikes of orange scarlet blooms on plants 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall. Zones 14-24. Mexican sage (S. mexicana 'Limelight') has showy yellow green stems and calyxes with cobalt blue flowers on plants 3 to 5 feet tall or taller. Zones 9, 14-17, 19-24. Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha) has velvety purple flowers on plants 3 to 4 feet tall. Zones 12-14, H1-H2. Pineapple sage (S. elegans) has spikes of bright red flowers and fragrant foliage on plants 3 to 4 feet tall. Zones 8-24.

Sedum. S. spectabile and S. telephium 'Autumn Joy' bear flowers in shades of rust to pink on plants 1 to 2 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Sneezeweed (Helenium hybrids). Flowers in red orange. 'Moerheim Beauty' is coppery red. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Yarrow (Achillea). Flowers come in various colors, including salmon and rusty red. A. filipendulina 'Coronation Gold' and A. 'Moonshine' have yellow blooms. Grows 4 inches to 5 feet tall, depending on species. Zones 1-24.

 

 

FOR SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AND HAWAII

Aster. A. x frikartii 'Mönch' is on everyone's top 10 list of lavender blue perennials; plants grow to 2 feet. Sunset climate zones 2b-3. New England aster (A. novae-angliae) has mostly blue flowers. 'Alma Potschke', an old favorite, bears salmon pink blooms. Grows to 3 feet tall. Zones 1-24. Flowers of Michaelmas daisy (A. novi-belgii) come mostly in shades of blue; 'Climax' has true blue flowers. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Bat-faced cuphea (Cuphea llavea). Red and purple flowers that look like bat faces appear on plants 2 to 3 feet tall. Zones 11-13, 21-24, H1-H2.

Boltonia asteroides. Bears white, pink, or blue flowers on plants 5 to 6 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Chrysanthemum. Florist's chrysanthemum (C. x morifolium) bears flowers in many colors, from rust and wine red to orange and golden yellow. Grows 1 to 6 feet, depending on variety. Zones 2-24. C. x rubellum flowers come in various colors; 'Clara Curtis' is bright, clear pink. Grows 2 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Coreopsis. C. lanceolata produces yellow flowers on plants 1 to 2 feet tall. C. verticillata has yellow, daisylike blooms; 'Moonbeam' bears pale yellow blooms. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Zones 1-24, H1-H2.

Daylily (Hemerocallis hybrids). Comes in various colors; look for reblooming or late varieties. Takes partial shade in hottest climates. Standard kinds grow 2 1/2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-24, H1-H2.

Gaillardia x grandiflora. Daisylike flowers in golden yellows, reds, and bicolors; grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-24, H1-H2.

Garden penstemon (P. x gloxinioides). Many kinds and colors bloom most heavily in spring but will repeat bloom in fall if you cut back plants after flowering. Blooms range from fire engine red to deep purple to pale pink, depending on variety. Plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 6-9, 14-24.

Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens). Vanilla-scented, purple flowers on plants 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall. Prefers partial shade in warm climates. Zones 15-17, 23-24, H1-H2.

Lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus). Mint family relative from South Africa bears dense whorls of tubular, deep orange flowers along spikes on 4- to 6-foot-tall plants. Zones 8-24, H1-H2.

Rudbeckia. R. fulgida 'Goldsturm' bears golden yellow blooms on 3-foot-tall plants. Gloriosa daisy (R. hirta) grows 3 to 4 feet tall. 'Indian Summer' has single to double golden yellow flowers. Zones 1-24.

Salvia. Many kinds bloom in late summer and early fall. Anise-scented sage (S. guaranitica) bears cobalt blue flowers, attractive to hummingbirds, on plants 4 to 5 feet tall. It can take partial shade in hot climates. Zones 8-9, 14-24. Autumn sage (S. greggii) flecks itself with flowers in many shades of red, white, and rose on shrubby, 1- to 4-foot plants. Zones 8-24. S. azurea grandiflora bears azure flowers, grows to 5 feet tall, and needs support. Zones 1-24. Eyelash sage (S. blepharophylla) puts out orange scarlet blooms on plants 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall. Zones 14-24. Mexican sage (S. mexicana 'Limelight') has spikes of showy yellow green stems and calyxes with cobalt blue flowers on plants 3 to 5 feet tall or taller. Zones 9, 14-17, 19-24. Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha) has velvety purple flowers on plants 3 to 4 feet tall. Zones 12-14, H1-H2. Pineapple sage (S. elegans) has bright red flowers and fragrant foliage on plants 3 to 4 feet tall. Zones 8-24.

Sneezeweed (Helenium hybrids). Flowers in red orange. 'Moerheim Beauty' is coppery red. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Star cluster (Pentas lanceolata). Flower stems are topped with tight clusters of star-shaped flowers in white, pink, lilac, or red on plants 2 to 3 feet tall (6 feet in Hawaii). It's a favorite of butterflies. Zones 23-24, H1-H2.

 

 

FOR LOW AND INTERMEDIATE DESERTS

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis). Bears golden yellow daisy blooms on tufted plants about 8 inches tall. Sunset climate zones 1-3, 10-13.

Aster. A. x frikartii 'Mönch' is on everyone's top 10 list of lavender blue perennials; plants grow to 2 feet. Sunset climate zones 2b-3. New England aster (A. novae-angliae) has mostly blue flowers. 'Alma Potschke', an old favorite, bears salmon pink blooms. Grows to 3 feet tall. Zones 1-24. Flowers of Michaelmas daisy (A. novi-belgii) come mostly in shades of blue; 'Climax' has true blue flowers. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Chrysanthemum. Florist's chrysanthemum (C. x morifolium) bears flowers in many colors, from rust and wine red to orange and golden yellow. Grows 1 to 6 feet, depending on variety. Zones 2-24. C. x rubellum flowers come in various colors; 'Clara Curtis' is bright, clear pink. Grows 2 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Copper canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii). Golden orange flowers emerge at branch ends atop mounding 3- to 6-foot-tall plants. Foliage is strongly fragrant when brushed (a blend of marigold, mint, and lemon). Zones 10, 12-13.

Coreopsis. C. lanceolata bears yellow flowers on plants 1 to 2 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-13. C. verticillata has yellow, daisylike flowers; 'Moonbeam' bears pale yellow blooms. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-13.

Eupatorium greggii. This aster relative is native to Arizona and Texas. Clusters of small, fluffy lavender flowers emerge on weak stems of 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-foot-tall plants. 'Boothill', first found near Tombstone, Arizona, is a choice form. Zones 3, 10-13.

Gaillardia x grandiflora. Daisylike flowers come in golden yellows, reds, and bicolors. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-13.

Golden dyssodia (Thymophylla pentachaeta). This Southwest native bears yellow daisylike flowers on plants 4 to 6 inches high. Zones 10-13.

Helianthus maximilianii. This perennial sunflower, native to the Southwest, has yellow flowers on plants to 10 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-13.

Hummingbird mint (Agastache hybrids). Whorls of apricot, pink, blue, and lavender flowers (favored by hummingbirds) appear in spikelike clusters on plants 1 1/2 to 4 feet tall. Most grow in zones 10-13.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Daisylike blooms are lavender pink, with bristly, mounding centers. 'Magnus' grows to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-13.

Rudbeckia. R. fulgida 'Goldsturm' bears golden yellow blooms on 3-foot-tall plants. Gloriosa daisy (R. hirta) grows 3 to 4 feet tall. 'Indian Summer' has single to double golden yellow flowers. Zones 2-3, 10-13.

Salvia. Many kinds bloom in late summer and early fall. S. azurea grandiflora bears azure flowers, grows to 5 feet tall, and needs support. Zones 1-3, 10-13. S. greggii bears flowers in many shades of red, white, and rose on shrubby 1- to 4-foot plants. Zones 10-13. S. verticillata 'Purple Rain' has violet blooms on 2 1/2-foot plants. Zones 2-3, 10.

Sedum. S. spectabile and S. telephium 'Autumn Joy' bear flowers in shades of rust to pink on plants 1 to 2 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-13.

Wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata). A profusion of purplish red, mallow-type flowers grow on spreading plants to 6 inches tall. Zones 1-3, 10-13.

Yarrow (Achillea). Flowers come in various colors, including salmon and rusty red. A. filipendulina 'Coronation Gold' and A. 'Moonshine' have yellow blooms. Grows 4 inches to 5 feet tall, depending on species. Zones 1-2, 10-13.

Zexmenia hispida. This native of Texas and Mexico bears bright orange-yellow daisies on a rounded plant 2 to 3 feet tall. Zones 10-13. *

 

 

FOR THE MOUNTAIN STATES

Aster. A. x frikartii 'Mönch' is on everyone's top 10 list of lavender blue perennials; plants grow to 2 feet. Sunset climate zones 2b-3. New England aster (A. novae-angliae) has mostly blue flowers. 'Alma Potschke', an old favorite, bears salmon pink blooms. Grows to 3 feet tall. Zones 1-24. Flowers of Michaelmas daisy (A. novi-belgii) come mostly in shades of blue; 'Climax' has true blue flowers. Grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Boltonia asteroides. Bears white, pink, or blue flowers on plants 5 to 6 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-11.

Chrysanthemum. Florist's chrysanthemum (C. x morifolium) bears flowers in many colors, from rust and wine red to orange and golden yellow. Grows 1 to 6 feet, depending on variety. Zones 2-24. C. x rubellum flowers come in various colors; 'Clara Curtis' is bright, clear pink. Grows 2 feet tall. Zones 1-24.

Coreopsis verticillata. Bears yellow, daisylike blooms; 'Moonbeam' is pale yellow. Grows 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-11.

Daylily (Hemerocallis hybrids). Comes in various colors; look for reblooming or late varieties. Takes partial shade in hottest climates. Standard kinds grow 2 1/2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-11.

False dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana). Flower spikes are 10 inches tall, densely set with funnel-shaped, bluish pink blooms. Zones 1-3.

Gaillardia x grandiflora. Daisylike flowers come in golden yellows, reds, and bicolors. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-11.

Globe thistle (Echinops). Golf ball-size flowers look like blue pincushions above deeply cut gray blue leaves on plants 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-11.

Hummingbird mint (Agastache hybrids). Whorls of apricot, pink, blue, and lavender flowers (favored by hummingbirds) appear in spikelike clusters on plants 1 1/2 to 4 feet tall. Zone 3b.

Japanese anemone (A. x hybrida). Bears white or pink blooms, prefers partial shade. Grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Zones 2b-3, 10-11.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum). Produces big domes of pale purple flowers on 3- to 9-foot-tall plants. 'Gateway' grows to 6 feet tall with mauve flowers. Zones 1-3.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Daisylike blooms are lavender pink, with bristly, mounding centers. 'Magnus' grows to 4 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-11.

Rudbeckia. R. fulgida 'Goldsturm' bears golden yellow blooms on 3-foot-tall plants. Gloriosa daisy (R. hirta) grows 3 to 4 feet tall. 'Indian Summer' has single to double golden yellow flowers. Zones 1-3, 10-11.

Salvia. S. x superba has violet blue blooms on 3-foot plants. Zones 1-3, 10-11. S. x sylvestris 'May Night' has violet blue blooms on 2-foot plants. Zones 2-3. S. nemerosa 'East Friesland' bears spikes of violet blue flowers on plants 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall. Zones 2-3. S. verticillata 'Purple Rain' has violet blooms on 2 1/2-foot plants. Zones 2-3.

Sneezeweed (Helenium hybrids). Flowers in red orange. 'Moerheim Beauty' is coppery red. Grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Zones 1-3, 10-11.

Wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata). A profusion of purplish red, mallow-type flowers on spreading plants to 6 inches tall. Zones 1-3, 10-11.

Yarrow (Achillea). Flowers come in various colors, including salmon and rusty red. A. filipendulina 'Coronation Gold' and A. 'Moonshine' have yellow blooms. Grows 4 inches to 5 feet tall, depending on species. Zones 1-3, 10-11.