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Fall blooms to keep your garden beautiful to the bitter end

Allium Ozawa (ornamental onion).
Allium Ozawa (ornamental onion). TNS

By September, some gardens (and gardeners) are looking a little tired. Most of the perennials have finished blooming, but you can extend the show well into fall with a few late-bloomers. Here’s a peek at some exceptional plants that go beyond the typical ornamental kale, mums and pansies.

Salvia Farinacea ‘Victoria’ (Mealycup Sage)

This annual has bloomed since mid-May in our garden and will continue right up to the first fall frost. It’s a favorite of butterflies, like the swallowtail in the photo, and bees. Stand back and watch the pollinators, including migrating hummingbirds, sip from the blossoms. Grow it in pots or in the ground. Bonus: Cut the individual flower stems, remove the leaves, tie the stems together and hang them in a dark, dry place, and they’ll keep their blue colors for dried winter arrangements.

Plant in full sun to light shade. Reaches about 20 inches tall and 12 inches wide.

Allium ‘Ozawa’ (Ornamental Onion)

“Personally, I like Allium ‘Ozawa’ and Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Blues’ and just about every aster there is for fall,” says landscape architect Scott Mehaffey of Flossmoor, Ill., (www.scottmehaffeyinc.com). “I like fall-blooming allium because it’s unusual, and the pale purple is a nice contrast to the yellows and oranges that are so prevalent at this time of year. Also, it’s a true “late bloomer,” generally lasting through Thanksgiving – it tolerates cold weather and light frosts. It’s definitely a front-of-the-border plant, a bit more diminutive than culinary chives. Also, as the sun is lower in the sky in autumn, we get deep shadows, and this plant is a real bright spot in semi-shady areas.”

Plant in full sun to part shade. Reaches 6 to 12 inches tall and wide. Hardy in zones 4 to 9.

Schizachyrium Scoparium ‘Prairie Blues’ (Little Bluestem)

“This grass provides a great bluish color contrast to all of the saturated greens of late summer, then gradually takes on a rosy-orange tinge as autumn progresses,” Mehaffey said. “This particular cultivar is a little relaxed in form, and there are others, like ‘Standing Ovation’ and ‘Carousel’ that stay more upright. Little bluestem has been the focus of breeding work in recent years, and there are named selections with various attributes, but all of them share native plant hardiness and wonderful color through fall and winter.”

Plant in full sun, well-drained soil. Reaches 2 to 3 feet tall and about 18 inches wide. Hardy in zones 3 to 10.

Symphyotrichum Laeve (Smooth Aster)

This plant is a butterfly magnet. “Smooth aster is a gorgeous cut flower and is one of the most attractive and long-lived of all the asters,” says Miriam Goldberger of Wildflower Farm in Coldwater, Ontario (www.wildflowerfarm.com). “Blooming from late August through the end of October, it puts on a fabulous floral display producing clusters of dainty blue flowers long after most flowers are finished. It does well in just about any well-drained soil.”

Plant in full sun to part shade. Reaches 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.

Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Jane’ (Little Lime Hydrangea)

“The lime flowers turn to white and then to a blush pink as the weather gets cooler,” says Katrina Chipman, horticulture coordinator at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill. “It starts flowering in mid-July and will hold the flowers – they do eventually turn brown – all the way through winter, adding to the winter landscape. It looks great planted in large masses, but also looks great as a small specimen.” She cautions that the plant should be watered during dry spells.

Plant in part to full sun. Reaches between 3 and 6 feet tall and wide. Hardy in zones 3 to 8.

Anemone x Hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ (Windflower)

Fall-blooming anemones are a favorite of Susy Stone, perennial plant manager at Lurvey’s Garden Center in Des Plaines, Ill. The plants bloom in September and October. “I love the clean, delicate flowers on the anemone – they move with the most gentle winds and are beautiful and long-lasting as a cut flower.”

Plant in full sun to part shade. Reaches 3 to 4 feet tall and 1 1 / 2 to 2 feet wide. Hardy in zones 4 to 8.