Plant now for spectacular fall garden; here are 6 great options

turtlehead chelone from Lockwood's
Turtlehead chelone. Photo from Lockwood’s Greenhouses.

Let me start out by saying that the gardening season isn’t over. You can have flowers and color in your Western New York garden in autumn.

variegated Joe-Pye weed  closeup from Lockwood's
Closeup of variegated Joe-Pye weed. Photo from Lockwood’s Greenhouses.

If your garden isn’t all you’d like it to be, you can plant things now! (Find out why fall is a great time to start a garden or add to your garden.)

In this article, Sally Cunningham, CNLP, a well known gardening expert and consultant for Lockwood’s Greenhouses in Hamburg, shares suggestions for perennials, shrubs and trees that you can plant right now and will look good for many autumns to come.

Many of these plants are underused because gardeners don’t notice them in  garden centers during the spring when the plants are less awe inspiring. It isn’t until fall that these plants really get interesting.

Here are Cunningham’s suggestions for six great plants for your autumn landscape:

Turtlehead chelone

This perennial is commonly called turtlehead because the flower actually looks like the head of a turtle. Look closely at the photo at the beginning of this story; the flower on the right looks like a turtle  with a pointed beak. Cunningham noted that if you give the flower a gentle squeeze, you can make the turtle open its mouth.

variegated Joe-Pye weed showing whole plant from Lockwood's
Variegated Joe-Pye weed. Photo from Lockwood’s Greenhouses.

“It has some charm for children,” she said.

In the photo, I think the flower on the left looks like it has its mouth open and is sticking out its tongue. (To see a larger view of a photo, click on it.)

Turtlehead chelone (hear the pronunciation of chelone here) is a native plant, so you know it will grow well in our area.

It gets about three feet tall and does spread, “but it’s not piggish about it,” she said.

It takes full sun to part shade.

“While the books say it likes moisture, occasional watering got it through this dry summer,” Cunningham said.

New variety of Joe-Pye weed: variegated

There are hundreds of species of eupatorium or Joe-Pye weed, and about a half dozen are grown commercially, Cunningham said. Now you can find a new variegated specimen.

“It gets darling pink flowers,” Cunningham said. With the variegated leaves, “It’s pretty, even before it flowers.”

All varieties of Joe-Pye weed attract butterflies, and this is no exception. Butterflies just love it, she said.

The variegated Joe-Pye weed can be grown in sun to part shade. It’s a native plant.

“It benefits from moisture,” Cunningham said, “but it does seem to survive even if it’s dry.”

Callicarpa (Beauty Berry) from Lockwood's
Callicarpa (Beauty Berry). Photo from Lockwood’s Greenhouse

Callicarpa (Beauty Berry)

In June, this might look like a plain green plant, but this shrub is spectacular right now, Cunningham said.  The berries, which you can see at right, have just turned an unbelievably bright pinkish purple; some would say magenta.

This shrub displays a neat vase shape.

“It’s always tidy looking,” she said.

Beauty berry gets three or four feet tall and has small, attractive leaves. It grows well even in clay soil, and prefers sun or light shade.

Bonus: It’s deer resistant.

Lespedeza (a pea shrub)

Lespedeza (a pea shrub) from Lockwood's Greenhouses
Lespedeza. Photo from Lockwood’s Greenhouses.

Lespedeza (hear the pronunciation here) puts on a stunning show, with hot pink flowers covering all the stems from mid-September and going throughout autumn.

It has a beautiful weeping, fountain shape. Because of its shape, it needs more room than you might suspect, Cunningham said. Make sure you give it four to five feet in width so it has enough room to show off its graceful shape.

Lespedeza dies back to the ground, similar to a butterfly bush, and Cunningham recommends cutting it back in late winter or spring.

An interesting thing about lespedeza  is that it is actually a legume in the pea family and has nitrogen-fixing properties. Some plants, such as peas, take oxygen from the air and leave it in the soil, Cunningham explained, which makes the surrounding soil richer. This can be beneficial for smaller perennials or bulbs that you plant around it.

This is another deer resistant plant.

Heptacodium (Seven Sons tree)

Heptacodium isn’twell known because this tree has been around just since 1993, Cunningham said.

Heptacodium or Seven Sons tree from Lockwood's Greenhouses
Heptacodium (Seven Sons tree. Photo from Lockwood’s Greenhouses.

Right now it has white flowers, and they’re fragrant! It’s unusual to find a tree in our area that flowers at this time of year, she pointed out; most our trees do their flowering in spring. Soon the flowers will be surrounded by red bracts. (A bract is a small leaf growing at the base of a flower.)

The bark is attractive too, somewhat shaggy and striped as the tree matures.

The Seven Sons  tree is small, growing to a height of 15 to 18 feet tall, and is a winner for a small yard, she said. It has no insect or disease problems.

Ginko tree

It’s not the flowers, but the leaves that give the ginko tree its autumn interest.

ginko leaf from Lockwood's Greenhouses
Ginko. Photo from Lockwood’s Greenhouses.

The leaves are beautifully shaped and turn bright yellow in fall. What’s especially interesting is how the leaves drop.

“All the leaves fall off at the same time– woomf!” Cunningham said.

The ginko is a large yard tree and gets to be about 50 feet tall, but dwarf varieties can be found, she said. It’s tough as nails.

Some people are nervous about buying ginkos because female specimens have fruit and berries that tend to smell. Now garden centers sell mostly male ginko trees. Even if you happen to get a female ginko, this tree is so large you will probably want to plant it well away from your house, she said.

Get more tips on selecting a tree for your garden here.

These plants as well as many others are available for planting right now at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark Street, Hamburg.

Lockwood’s also has classes coming up this month:

All About Hydrangeas: Two classes will take place on Saturday, September 22. There will be a hydrangea wreath-making class with Mary Trifunovic at 10 a.m. and Growing Hydrangeas talk at 11 a.m. by Joan Mariea. Fee is $10. Please pre-register so they can plan materials and seating.

It’s Time for Garlic: Tom Szulist, the Garlic Guy, will be at Lockwood’s at 2 p.m. Sunday, September 30 to introduce you to the health benefits of garlic and how to grow it in your own backyard. The presentation is free.

5 Comments on “Plant now for spectacular fall garden; here are 6 great options

  1. Did I miss the mention of Japanese Anemone? They regularly produce 2-3 months of late-summer to late-fall flowers and are extremely hardy. The only possible drawback is that they spread very vigorously.

    Also, we have several spirea bushes that we get to flower all summer long and into the fall by dead-heading them regularly. They are popping with color right now!

  2. I was going to add Caryopteris but see Kristen already did. I think it is a plant used far too little in our area. Pollinators love it.

  3. Those are great suggestions. I didn’t recognize the name boltonia, but when I looked it up I recognized it. It’s a native plant that grows tall and gets daisy-like flowers. It is beautiful!

  4. I have the chelone, the Callicarpa (Beauty Berry), the Lespedeza (a pea shrub), and Heptacodium (Seven Sons tree). I would add blue mist spirea, purple New England asters, boltonia to the list. Plus annuals like lantana are in the their prime now, and can take some cold nights.

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