Grow the Best-Looking Fall Garden Ever
South American verbena
Starting in midsummer and blooming to frost, South American verbena (Verbena bonariensis) offers an easy way to add long-blooming color to the landscape. The plant reaches about 6 feet tall and is typically grown in the Midwest as an annual, though it is a perennial in Zones 7-11.
Kale (Brassica oleracea) is a showy plant that thrives in cool temperatures. Plant it in early fall for rich color throughout the season; color will intensify with the first few frosts. Leaves range from pink and purple to green and white; leaf shape can be ruffled, curly or flat. Ornamental cabbage is similar and can be mixed with ornamental kale in a bed or container. Both like full sun and are grown as annuals in the Midwest.
Northern sea oats
This ornamental grass has distinctive flat, drooping seed heads that emerge green but darken to purple-brown by late summer. Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) grow well in full sun to partial shade and typically reach a height of 2-3 feet. The foliage provides winter interest in the landscape and also can be used inside for dried flower arrangements. Zones 5-9.
Ornamental peppers (Capsicum annuum) turn orange, red, white, yellow or purple to spice up fall in the kitchen garden. The colorful annuals like sun and well-drained soil. While technically they are edible, ornamental peppers are grown for their pretty color and not for their taste. Note that they are very hot--wear gloves if you have to handle the fruit.
Chelone plants are called turtleheads because the tubular flowers look like the heads of snapping turtles. This perennial does well in wet, rich soil and prefers partial shade. Plants grow 2-3 feet high and bear pink, rose or white flowers. Zones 4-9.
Hardy sedums are a reliable bloomer found in many Midwest gardens. Plant size, flower color and bloom time vary; popular types for early fall include 'Autumn Joy' (left), 'Frosty Morn', 'Purple Emperor' and 'Meteor.' 'Autumn Joy', especially, is a classic--it grows about 2 feet tall, with flowers that open as dusty pink, then turn rust as they age.
For more details on the best sedums and other succulents for the Midwest, click on the link below.
Miscanthus ornamental grasses form dense clumps of arching foliage with beautiful plumes. Miscanthus sinensis var. purpurascens (left) is known as flame grass because of its orange-red fall color. By winter, its plumes turn creamy white. Like most ornamental grasses, Miscanthus does best in full sun with good drainage but will tolerate some shade. Miscanthus Zones vary by species; Miscanthus sinensis is Zones 4-9.
Asters are charming, classic fall flowers. Aster 'Purple Dome' is disease-resistant and grows 2 feet tall with purple-violet blooms. You'll find asters in shades of pink, blue, purple or white; they vary in height from 1 to 5 feet. Hardiness also varies, but most common types, including 'Purple Dome', are hardy in Zones 4-8.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa) lives up to its name come autumn, when its branches are covered in violet-purple fruits. 'Profusion' boasts loads of purple berries on a 6-foot-tall shrub; 'Early Amethyst' bears purple fruits on a compact 4-foot-tall shrub. Zones 5-9.
Russian sage makes a dramatic statement in the fall garden, with aromatic, silvery foliage topped by lavender-blue flowers. A favorite of butterflies, Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) can grow to 5 feet, though dwarf varieties such as 'Little Spire' stay closer to 2 feet tall. Zones 5-9.
Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii) accents a late-season garden with spikes of purple-blue flowers and finely divided foliage. It grows best in partial shade and moist but well-drained soil. Zones 3-7.
Joe Pye weed
A fantastic choice for the back of the border, Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) is an imposing plant. In late summer and early autumn, it's topped by clusters of lavender, mauve or white flowers. The plants grow 5 feet or more. Zones 3-9.
Long a favorite for its masses of sunny yellow blooms and low care requirements, black-eye Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) blooms from late summer to autumn. 'Goldsturm' is a popular, award-winning variety. Most black-eyed Susans grow 3 feet tall and prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Zones 4-9.
A favorite for shady gardens, toad lily (Tricyrtis) offers beautiful blooms at the end of the season. Many varieties have speckled flowers, but 'Tojen' (left) is a more refined, pale lavender-purple variety. 'White Towers' has beautiful white flowers. Most toad lilies grow about 2 feet tall. 'Tojen' and 'White Towers' are hardy in Zones 4-8.
There are more than 200 types of anemone, but one of the most dramatic for the fall garden is Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida, shown at left). A towering specimen--to 5 feet--it bears loads of pink or white flowers from late summer to autumn. 'Honorine Jobert' is a favorite; it has beautiful clear white flowers with golden yellow stamens. Anemone can be a bit of a thug, as the roots like to run, but the masses of flowers are worth it. Zones 4-8.
More fall gardening ideas
Click below for more Midwest fall gardening ideas and tips.