When we think of fall color in the landscape, we picture the vibrant foliage of trees and shrubs – the brilliantly-colored leaves of orange, red, purple and yellow glowing against clear blue skies.
We can also bring the flamboyant colors of fall to the floor of our landscapes, too. Perennials are most often chosen for their flowers, but some show off rich autumnal shades, too.
Amsonia tabernaemontana, commonly called willow leaf amsonia, boasts steel blue flower clusters in early summer and willow-like leaves that remain fresh all summer long before they glow a gorgeous golden yellow in fall.
Amsonia hubrichtii, commonly called Arkansas amsonia, sports soft needle-like foliage, giving the plant a feathery appearance. Light blue flowers charm the garden in early summer; bright green foliage turns show-stopping yellow in fall.
Looking more like shrubs than perennials, these amsonias grow up to 3 feet tall and wide. Their best show of flowers and foliage is achieved in full sun and well-drained soil.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, commonly called leadwort or plumbago, is another blue-flowering perennial that shows off outstanding fall color. Its bronze-scarlet fall foliage is the perfect backdrop for its gentian blue flowers.
Plant leadwort as a ground cover over spring-blooming bulbs or around the bases of shrubs. It is late to emerge in spring, so be careful to avoid accidentally digging it up during spring clean-up. Leadwort benefits from an extra blanket of mulch over winter.
Clouds of tiny, lavender-blue flowers bloom on the tall stems of statice or sea lavender, botanically named Limonium latifolium. Basal foliage grows up to 18 inches tall and turns a rich purple-red in fall.
Most gardeners appreciate perennial geraniums for their long bloom time in the summer landscape. Some types also put on a striking display when their foliage turns combinations of orange and red in fall.
Commonly referred to as cranesbill, this group of plants is adaptable to a wide variety of growing conditions including light shade. They are often used as fillers, knitting other plants together in a tapestry of color and texture. G. sanguineum, G. himalayense, and G. dalmaticum are the species of perennial geraniums with intense orange and red fall color.
The shiny, cabbage-like foliage of Bergenia cordifolia is why most gardeners choose this perennial for the front of their shady borders. Broad, fleshy leaves contrast beautifully with fine-foliaged companions like ferns and astilbes. Or maybe they choose pigsqueak, as it is commonly called, for its showy flower clusters in pink, rose or white lifted by stout stems early in spring. Fall color could be another reason to plant it when its dazzling bronzy-red leaves create a carpet of color that often lasts well into winter.
The strong lines of ornamental grasses are accentuated in the fall when their foliage puts on their autumn hues. While many grasses turn a warm tawny shade complementing drying seed heads of coneflowers and sedum, some types of maiden grass dazzle with color. November Sunset turns yellow and orange; Purpurescens flushes purple-red.
Some native grasses put on a show – the foliage of switchgrass turns golden yellow; the leaves of prairie dropseed change to orange-red; the foliage of little blustem becomes crimson.
Plant perennials with fabulous fall foliage and enjoy the show from top to bottom!