September-Blooming Natives for the Ornamental Garden
It can be challenging to keep year-round bloom in the ornamental garden. However, with persistence, observation, and careful plant selection, keeping color in the flower beds throughout the year can be achieved. Finding the right plants for your garden space is essential for year-round bloom. It may take some trial and error, but the experience and knowledge gained will be worth the sacrifice in labor and potential plant loss. Sometimes when I really want a plant to grow in my garden, it won’t. I find it astonishing that some plants grow with such ease that they are considered to be invasive. I agree that science is a key factor in getting your plants to grow, but knowing who they are, what they are doing, and their well being as you work with them will establish a foundation that will enhance your ornamental garden. The plants selected below are native September-blooming plants that can be incorporated into your flower beds to add bright, glowing hues for this upcoming fall season.
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae or Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Hope Ryden mentions in her book Wildflowers Around the Year that there are 120 variations of asters. They can bloom in colors of orange, red, yellow, purple, pink, and white. I picked the New England aster because I favor the sharp purple color and thought it would blend well with the other native plants presented in this article. However, let it be known there are many asters to choose from that all bloom in the fall. They have a long bloom period because they flower in the fall when pollinators are not as active. Asters attract butterflies and have hairy stems to keep ground insects from easily climbing up their 4-6 foot stalks. Asters can grow in most garden beds with low nitrogen. They like moist soils and can grow in moderate light yet prefer full sun. They can grow from seed, sown in the fall, and will germinate in spring. Asters can be seen growing in meadows and ditches. Perhaps it would be a nice addition in the back of the flower bed to bring in autumn color. They do grow tall and may need to be staked if not cut back.
Goldenrod (Solidago Spp.)
I have read there are eighty to one hundred different kinds of goldenrod. The species that are common in our area include Solidago nemoralis (gray goldenrod), Solidago flexicaulis (zigzag goldenrod), Solidago rugosa (wrinkeleaf goldenrod), and Solidago speciosa (showy goldenrod). It is very difficult to identify each species because they tend to hybridize (crossbreed). Goldenrod is usually blamed for seasonal hay fever, but the actual culprit is ragweed, not goldenrod. Goldenrod is a delightful plant that is best used in the back of the border. It grows best in well-drained soils in direct sun. It will thrive in ornamental beds with pH 4.5-5.5. A good indication that summer is ending is when goldenrod blooms, which will last until frost. I have worked with goldenrod for many years, and it can get aggressive in your beds so you must be diligent in keeping it in restricted areas. It CAN be managed. Its name means “I make whole” in Latin, referring to its medicinal uses as an antioxidant, diuretic, astringent, as well as an anti-fungal.
For a detailed article on goldenrod, including new cultivars, you’ll want tor read Pat Chadwick’s article in a previous issue of The Garden Shed, piedmontmastergardeners.org/goldenrod.
Piedmont Native Plants: A Guide for Landscapes and Gardens (Repp Glaettli, ed., Thomas Jefferson Soil & Water Conservation District)
Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum or Eupatorium coelestinum)
Blue mistflower is also commonly called wild ageratum or hardy ageratum. For an excellent discussion of this native, please refer to last month’s article “A Choice of Blue,” which explains the important differences between this native perennial and the nonnative annual Ageratum houstonianum. piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/a-choice-of-blue. The native blue mistflower makes a nice cut flower that can also be used in dried arrangements. It grows rapidly in rich moist soil (pH 5-6) and thrives in sun to light shaded areas. It can grow 1-2 feet tall. This plant will look lovely in front of asters and goldenrod. It grows easily and can be invasive, although it’s not difficult to manage by pulling out as a weed. I find the color of wild ageratum very enchanting, like a vivid twilight blue hue.
Turtleheads (Chelone) will add an abundance of movement into the ornamental garden. This native is related to snapdragons and has a similar erect habit. I have always fancied the snapdragon, perhaps due to my early experience with Alice in Wonderland. Finding this native cousin was a delight. For a previous article on Chelone in The Garden Shed, you’ll want to look at “Chelone: A Funny Name But a Sweet Flower,” in piedmontmastergardeners.org/July2017
The turtlehead is also known as fish mouth or snake mouth, however the genus name (Chelone) means tortoise in Greek. It needs a fertile loam that is moist, with a pH 5-6. It should get 2 hours of direct sun, spending the rest of the day in partial shade. It divides well and is easily transplanted. It is known to be adaptable and can be very low maintenance once established, so long as its moisture requirements can be met. The white turtlehead (Chelone glare) is host to the endangered Baltimore checkerspot butterfly larva. This plant is known to have medicinal properties for the stomach and skin, but do not test this plant or any other plant for medicinal properties without seeking guidance from a credible herbalist.
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale).
This bright, happy flower is in the aster or sunflower family, and it is found in forests or natural areas along stream banks and in wet areas. The genus name, Helenium, refers to the famous Helen of Troy, and according to legend, these flowers arose from the ground where Helen’s tears fell, though the connection to this famous lady of Greek myth is puzzling, since sneezeweed is a native of the Americas. This plant grows 2-5 feet tall and would fit in well with the other native plants mentioned in this article It needs moist soils with a pH 5-6. I have read that the flower heads were dried and crushed to make a snuff forcing one to sneeze to treat coughs, colds, and headaches. This plant can be toxic in large quantities; therefore, it is not advised to consume this plant. Sneezeweed can be started as seed and divided when matured. I think it is a whimsical flower that adds a lot of fun to an autumn wildflower bouquet.
Virgin’s Bower (Clematis Virginiana)
This can be an aggressive vine; therefore, you should be very cautious if introducing this plant into the garden. I suggest it be used along a fence, lattice, or other designated area. It has been known as the traveler’s joy because the vine creates a heavy drapery along roadsides that produce shade or shelter from rain. It is also known as Old Man’s Beard.
Other September blooming plants that I would like to mention are the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), which is a deciduous shrub, and rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The rose mallow is a white hibiscus. These could also be interesting additions to ornamental beds.