Both the leaves and bright blooms of strawflowers (Bracteantha bracteata 'Sundaze Bronze Orange') and globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa 'Purple') give real bang for your buck with color. After frost hits the foliage, clip the dried flowers to decorate holiday trees and make garlands.
Many ornamental grasses grow discreetly, often unnoticed by visitors during spring and summer while they provide green backdrops. By fall, they have reached their full sizes, with frilly flower heads. The vertical white plumes of Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Helga Reich') pair nicely with horizontal yellow spikes of goldenrod (Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks').
Both Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron') and rosemary willow (Salix elaeagnos) have fine-textured foliage, but the combination works because cool tones play off deep ones. The rosemary willow itself is intriguing when blowing winds expose the silver undersides and the green tops of its spiky leaves.
Some plants hold up through winter. Others that give you a color boost but "melt" at the first frost are still worth using. Here, that's the case with sedum 'Autumn Joy', which lasts, and artemisia (Artemisia vulgaris 'Janlim'), which doesn't. Pair these drought-tolerant plants for their neon colors and to contrast the fleshy, round sedum leaves against the lacy, chartreuse artemisia foliage.
A nearly monochromatic color scheme can work if you use contrasting textures, such as delicate, white-petaled heath aster (Aster ericoides 'Monte Casino') against the large, jagged silver leaves of cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). Some gardeners prefer using asters instead of commonly used mums in fall because taller, looser asters have a more natural form.
There's not a flower in this combination. Instead, the medium-size silver eucalyptus (Eucalyptus cinerea) mixes with the coarse-leafed flowering kale (Brassica oleracea 'Osaka Red'). The colors of the kale intensify as the weather gets cooler.
The long, sharply pointed leaves of New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax 'Maori Sunset') are great counterpoints to the rounded leaves of purple barberry (Berberis thunbergii 'Atropurpurea'), above. They repeat the same purple-pink tones, with the barberry a deeper hue.
The bold silver sage (Salvia argentea) and medium-size purple sage (Salvia officinalis 'Purpurea') combination grows from spring through fall. Though both salvias have similar shapes and hairy foliage that traps the morning dew, the light and dark colors play off each other.
An unexpected blue-and-red fall combo results from pairing monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii') with the bright crimson berries of winterberry (Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red').
A contrast of color and texture comes from burgundy foliage of Diabolo ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Monlo') and the dainty seedheads of dill (Anethum graveolens).
Click below for more Midwest fall gardening ideas and tips.