by Ray Allen
If your garden is "over" for the year, look what you're missing! Here are three of the biggies for fall bloom. The dahlia at left is "Crazy Love." And the other photo is of two native wildflowers: the Showy Sunflower and the famous New England Aster which, as you can see, bloom together beautifully. The best book I've ever seen on this subject is by Alan Lacy, one of the great garden writers. It's "The Garden in Autumn", and it's available at Amazon right now for as little as 3.97 used. But let's take them one at a time.
Dahlias. If you didn't plant dahlia tubers in the spring, you simply don't have these big beauties. They bloom from mid-summer right up until frost. And they come in all sizes and colors. Most of the popular ones are about waist high with big flowers, some up to 10" across. We have a whole article called "An Addiction to Dahlias" showing step by step planting at AmericanMeadows.com.
Sunflowers. Everybody knows the garden giants with the huge flowers. But those are all annuals. You'll want a couple of perennial types for your garden, so they'll be there every fall. They are all natives, all tall, and most have golden sprays or clusters of smaller flowers, not the huge foot-wide blooms of the garden annuals. If you don't know them, imagine a big tall plant covered with black-eyed susan-sized flowers. They're all fantastic, and perfect for the back row of any flower garden. Alan Lacy's favorite is the "Narrow-Leaved Sunflower," Helianthus angustifolius. It works well up to about zone 5. Farther north, my favorite is the well-named "Showy Sunflower," Helianthus laetiflorus var rigidus, a beauty only about 4 or 5 ft. tall and hardy as an oak. This one often lines cornfields in far northern states. If you'd like to start with seed, one of the most popular is Maximillian's Sunflower, a similar native out west. All these will spread, so give them plenty of room.
Asters If you're not already growing asters in your garden, resolve to fix this right now, or at the latest, next spring. Because they are some of the easiest plants on earth to grow, and never fail to reward you with masses of blue, purple, pink, and white flowers when you need them most--in fall. If you live in northern areas, choose hybrids (or the native forms) of Aster nova angliae, the world famous New England Aster, which forms huge clouds of flowers on bushy plants about 3 ft. tall. The native has big (for asters), bright blue flowers, but the most famous hybrid is Aster "Alma Potschke," the deep pink one that's available everywhere. (We have the native seed, but it is so rare and expensive, we have only packets, and even small amounts of the seed is hard to find. However, it's super easy to grow.) But any aster that survives in your zone will be a dependable colormaker every fall, and that includes all the natives on your property. Don't think you have any? Look around the garbage can, or along the road out front. Some of those tall "weeds" are now in bloom, and they're the native asters. Just cut them down to about 3-4" and move them. They'll be where you want them next fall in full bloom.
If you don't have these beauties this year, it may be too late. But make a note, and get them for sure next spring. They take almost no care, so why go through the beautiful fall weather with no big color in the yard and no big arrangements in the house?
October Scene: Photo at left is of our Vermont wildflower meadow a few years ago. A few weeks before this was taken, the wildflower meadow behind the sunflowers was in full bloom. But this picture was taken after first frost, and as you can see, our perennial sunflowers (Helianthus laetiflorus var rigidus) are all alone, and still blooming beautifully. Like species tulips and daffodils for early color in the spring, these plants are the ones to lengthen your season of color in fall. Once you add them to your wild meadow, you'll have almost an additional month of flowers every year.