Gasper design and nursey team members reveal 10 plants at the top of their fall garden wish lists
1. Callicarpa dichotoma (Purple Beautyberry)
I am in love with the color of the berries and the way they sit on top of the leaves and the branches.
Callicarpa dichotoma is a small, rounded shrub that will typically grow 3-5 feet in height and width. It can be planted in full sun to part shade but may become leggy in too much shade. According to the Rutgers University website, Callicarpa is seldom severely damaged by deer. The showy purple berries begin to ripen in September and are at their best in October. Its berries are beneficial to birds and the best fruit production will occur if plants are planted in groups or masses for cross-pollination. The fall leaf color is yellow.
2. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
Its flowers bloom from August into November, changing from deep pink to copper and it attracts butterflies.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is a classic perennial that blooms from August-November with pink cluster blooms that will mature to a coppery red color. The dried flower heads can be left through the colder months for winter interest or used in dried flower arrangements. This plant will grow approximately 2 feet by 2 feet in size and will appreciate being planted in full sun. It has the fat fleshy foliage of a succulent and can tolerate drought conditions once it is established but like many sedums, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is a deer favorite. While the variety ‘Autumn Joy’ is a tried and true classic, there are many other varieties of fall bloom sedums that will give one different choices in size, leaf or flower color, and deer resistance.
3. Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura Tree)
Makes a fragrance when the leaves drop (think a caramel latte or spun brown sugar!). In addition to that and its great fall color, it is also deer resistant.
Cercidiphyllum japonicum is a shade tree that can be either single or multi-stemmed and will mature to 40 feet plus in height. It has a beautiful, rounded shape and attractive foliage that is heart-shaped. The leaves emerge a reddish-purple in the spring, mature to medium bluish green, and then turn shades of orange and red in the fall. Cercidiphyllum japonicum will grow best in full sun to part sun but will appreciate afternoon shade, especially as a young tree. It likes moist, well-drained soils but can tolerate clay soils. It would prefer protection from strong winds. Its flowers are insignificant.
4. Fothergilla gardenii
I like it for its brilliant fall hues of gold, red, purple, and orange. Plus, it is an easy plant to grow as it can be planted in partial shade to full sun and is compact.
Fothergilla gardenii is a great shrub that is native to the southeastern US but grows well in Pennsylvania. It is a workhorse in the garden and provides multi-seasons of interest: honey-like, fragrant, showy early spring flowers; frosty blue leaves in summer; and brilliant yellow, red, and orange fall colors. It will grow approximately 3 feet to 4 feet in height and width. Fothergilla gardenia prefers moist, acidic, well-drained soils and can grow in full sun to part shade. Fothergilla is deer and rabbit resistant although deer may eat the flowers in the spring.
5. Caryopteris x clandonensis (Blue Mist Spirea)
Caryopteris x clandonensis is a late bloomer that attracts a lot of pollinators!
Caryopteris is a low-mounded deciduous shrub that will be covered with blue flowers in the late summer to fall and many pollinators such as butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. The foliage is a silvery green and tolerant of drought once established. Caryopteris needs well-drained soil and can become a victim of overwatering or very wet soils. Caryopteris can experience some branch dieback in very cold winters but can be pruned back hard in the early spring without affecting flowering.
6. Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweetgum Tree)
A native tree with star shaped leaves and amazing rainbow-colored fall foliage. Attracts beneficial pollinators and songbirds.
Liquidambar styraciflua is a native shade tree with star-shaped leaves. It may be best known for its fruit, a prickly round ‘gum’ ball which is great for crafts but generally requires clean up once they fall to the ground. There are some fruitless varieties available such as ‘Rotundiloba’. Plant Liquidambar in full sun with plenty of room to grow since it can reach 60 feet by 40 feet at full maturity. It is tolerant of deer, rabbit, and clay soil, and is planted close to or under Black Walnuts.
7. Tricyrtis hirta (Toad Lily)
The common name of this plant is Toad Lily — they don’t attract toads, but I sure wish they did because I love having cute toads in the garden to eat bugs.
A late-blooming perennial with orchid-like flower with purple spots. Tricyrtis grows in part to full shade with long arching branches covered with flowers in late summer to early fall. This plant does not like to dry out so keep the soil moist. Tricyrtis is relatively pest free and looks great naturalized in woodland settings.
8. Solidago (Goldenrod)
I always know it’s fall when the goldenrod starts to bloom… it’s the kickoff to the season. It’s like Forsythia’s twin. You forget it’s there until all the plants burst into yellow blooms. I hike in Wissahickon park frequently and there’s tons of goldenrods along the trails. It’s a beautiful sight walking through fields of gold!
Never fear allergy suffers…Goldenrod IS not the source of seasonal allergy issues (Ragweed is the true culprit.) The most familiar species of goldenrod, Solidago canadensis although a native perennial, can be a bit of a garden bully. Instead, try one of the many smaller and better-behaved cultivars such as ‘Little Lemon’ and ‘Fireworks’. ‘Little Lemon’ is approximately 18 inches by 18 inches with light yellow flowers from July to August. ‘Fireworks’ is a little bit taller (3 to 3.5 feet) and has lacy flowers that resemble its namesake, exploding fireworks. It blooms from September to October. Both prefer full sun and are very attractive to butterflies and other pollinators while being deer resistant.
9. Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak leaf Hydrangeas)
Love the fall color and old flower heads.
Oakleaf hydrangeas are a large native shrub with long, cone-shaped clusters of pure white flowers that begin flowering in early summer and mature to pink or red with towards the fall. Its dark green oak-shaped leaves turn red-purple or bright red in the fall. They grow in full sun to part shade but need moisture to truly thrive. Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood so should only be pruned immediately after flowering. Oakleaf hydrangeas typically are a large upright, multi-stemmed shrub but many smaller varieties have come to market in more recent years such as ‘Sikes Dwarf’ and ‘Ruby Slippers’. In our southeastern Pennsylvania gardens, we have found that oakleaf hydrangeas often suffer from deer browsing.
10. Amsonia hubrichtii (Blue Star)
Great foliage texture spring through fall, which amazing fall color. Blue flowers in the spring.
An erect, clump-forming native perennial, Amsonia has blue spring flowers and a unique feathery green summer foliage that adds a lot of texture to the garden. One of the best features of Amsonia is that it turns brilliant, bright gold in the autumn. The best fall foliage color usually occurs in full sun, but flowers generally last longer if given some afternoon shade in hot sunny areas. Amsonia gets way bigger than most perennials and can grow to 4 feet x 4 feet mounds, so give it plenty of room to grow when planting. Tolerant of deer, Amsonia is also attractive to butterflies.
A Few More Fall Honorable Mentions
Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’ Red Maple
Acer rubrum is a native shade tree to Pennsylvania and naturally grows in our woodlands. As a species, it is very tolerant of wet soils. ‘October Glory” is an outstanding and reliable variety with large, medium green leaves in spring and summer and bright orange to deep, reddish-purple fall color in as its name applies the month of October. Foliage is held on the tree later into fall than with most other red maple varieties. This variety is a tall form with a dense, rounded crown that can grow to 40 to 50 feet in height. Although not commonly thought of as a flowering tree, the flowers of Acer rubrum are actually quite showy, and one of the first signs of spring. When flowering in very early spring (March-April), the whole tree appears tinged with red. Acer rubrum can be planted in full sun to part shade and tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions. Like many maple species, Acer rubrum does have a lot of shallow, surface roots and so should not be planted close to sidewalks and driveways.
Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’ (Virginia Sweetspire)
Another native shrub with multi-seasons of interest. Itea starts out in early summer with a beautiful display of fragrant white flowers on arching stems. As summer progresses, shiny green foliage appears until fall when the foliage turns a stunning garnet-red. Itea is very tolerant of many growing conditions and will live in full sun to full shade, as well as very wet soil conditions. It can range from 3 to 4 feet tall by wide (and sometimes larger) but handles pruning well. Deer tends to leave this plant alone.
Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)
Panicum is a native upright ornamental grass that grows in full sun and tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, occurring in both wet and dry soil conditions. Olive to blue-green foliage turns golden yellow in autumn. Airy flower panicles produce showy seed heads in the fall through winter which are a great food source for birds in the winter. Panicum’s leaves are sturdier than many ornamental grasses allowing it to stay upright, even under snow load, providing winter interest in the garden as well as giving protection to wintering songbirds. Clumps should be cut back to the ground in very early spring before the season’s new growth emerges from the crown. There are many varieties of Panicum that sport different mature heights, leaf blade colors, and seed types. A couple of our favorite varieties are ‘Northwind’ which has beautiful blue-green foliage and ‘Apache Rose’ which has rose-colored flowers and leaf tips.
Symphyotrichum ‘October Skies’ (Aromatic Aster)
Symphyotrichum is a native prairie/meadow perennial that blooms late in the season with small blue daisy-like flowers with yellow centers. ‘October Skies’ is a more compact, bushy plant growing approximately 18″x18″ and blooms in October as its name implies. It prefers full sun, and dry to medium soil conditions. Once established it is drought tolerant. Asters are very attractive to pollinators as they bloom when not a lot of other plants are blooming in the garden. Symphyotrichum ‘October Skies’ makes an excellent companion plant with Amsonia hubrichtii (Blue Star) because its blue flowers are striking against the bright yellow fall color of the Amsonia.
Anemone ‘September Charm’ (Japanese Anemone)
This perennial sports abundant silvery pink flowers that are borne on long wiry stems over its foliage in late summer to early fall (Late August to September). It prefers part sun to part shade but cannot tolerate drying out. It looks great naturalized in a shady woodland or cottage garden and is usually considered deer resistant.