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Your Fall Garden Begins in the Spring

Crafting a beautiful fall garden begins in spring. What you plant in late April should carry you through to autumn even after a hot Oklahoma summer.

Your Fall Garden Begins in the Spring

Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage with muhly grass begins blooming in September. Photo by Dee Nash

You may be wondering why you’re reading about fall when spring is just around the corner.

Crafting a beautiful fall garden begins in spring. What you plant in late April should carry you through to autumn even after a hot Oklahoma summer.

Look to the Oklahoma prairie for inspiration. What seems like mostly grasses swaying in the wind is much more diverse. Grasses are a predominant feature especially in fall, but the prairie is a concert of various elements, each having their season. 

Shrubs, small trees, perennials, biennials and annuals all compete for resources. As one plant fades into the background, others take its place. Some, like ornamental grasses, grow all year for their fall finale. 

Use a mix of plants to make the most of texture, form and color. Pollinators and birds will also thank you, especially if you weave some common prairie natives into your palate too. 

Don’t let color simply turn your head either. Instead of purchasing perennials in full bloom, choose them when they are young and easily transplanted. For many perennials, like the fancy varieties of rudbeckia, black-eyed Susans, spring is the best time to plant. If they’re from a seed mix, you may not know their exact color, but let go of perfection and instead grow a wave of plants in various shades. With all of this in mind, what should you plant this spring? Here are a few suggestions. 

Shrubs and Trees

Lagerstroemia indica, crapemyrtle, blooms throughout summer, and then sports beautiful fall color. Limb crapemyrtles up as small trees and surround them with perennials and annuals. Cultivars come in various heights. Research before you purchase so you don’t need to over prune a larger selection. 

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and H. quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ are special shrubs that deserve a place in any garden. ‘Ruby Slippers’ will even grow in full sun with irrigation.

Aronia arbutifolia, red chokeberry or chokecherry, blooms white in spring and then produces dark fruit beloved by birds. Leaves turn a brilliant red in fall. ‘Brilliantissima’ is a more compact selection with intense leaf color.


For graceful movement in the garden, plant ornamental grasses. If you want perennial grasses, try one of the switchgrasses like ‘Northwind’ or ‘Dallas Blues.’ Grasses come in all sizes from the diminutive Nassella tenuissima, Mexican feather grass, to Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ topping out at eight feet. 

Blooming Perennials Goldenrod blooms the same time as ragweed, but isn’t the culprit causing your sneezing and congestion. It is one of the best nectar plants for pollinators. There are several different varieties of goldenrod available for purchase. Try Solidago rigida, rigid goldenrod, or S. speciosa var. rigidiuscula, showy-wand goldenrod. 

Don’t forget asters and mums, but try asters native to our region, and mums that have true garden appeal like ‘Will’s Wonderful’ instead of the mounded mums you see at box stores.

Annuals For gorgeous fall color and seed for the birds, plant Amaranthus hypochondriacus, burgundy amaranth. This grain has stunning purple leaves and magenta plumes. Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage, begins blooming in September and continues until the first freeze. It often overwinters in my Zone 7a garden if we don’t have a hard winter. 

Bulbs Lycoris radiata, red spider lilies, bloom in late August or September and can continue into October. They are pricey, but will colonize if they’re not disturbed.

The fall garden is much more than mums, pansies and asters. It epitomizes the culmination of a gardener’s toil throughout the seasons and deserves our consideration in spring. What will you grow this year?  OKL Article End

Dee Nash