Spring forward your fall garden

By Dee Nash March 2023

The two best gardening seasons in Oklahoma are spring and fall. Now is the time to plan and plant for the best autumnal show.

Assorted grasses and plants in garden

For fall inspiration, gaze upon the Oklahoma prairie. Although grasses are the prairie’s most dominant feature, nature weaves her magic with a diverse group of plants including shrubs, small trees, perennials and annuals.

What should we plant in the spring garden to pull off prairie splendor?

Ornamental grasses

Grow both perennial and one-season grasses.

  • Pennisetum ‘Fireworks’ is great plant to plug in anywhere something else has died. I lost two roses this year, and I planted ‘Fireworks’ in their places. It won’t overwinter so I can plant something more permanent next year if I choose.
  • alopecuroides‘Hameln’ is a dwarf fountain grass that looks great at the edge of a border.
  • Panicum virgatum‘Dallas Blues’ is a smaller perennial switchgrass while ‘Cloud Nine’ grows nearly nine feet tall.
  • Miscanthus sinensis Adagio’ is a mid-sized, perennial grass.
  • Nassella tenuissima, Mexican feather grass, is short with swaying fronds. It isn’t invasive in Oklahoma, but it does reseed.
  • Pennisetum glaucumPurple Majesty’ purple millet makes a bold statement. You can start it from seed in early spring.

Shrubs and trees 

Assorted plants in raised bedMany of our native shrubs and trees also produce fruit for the birds, and some are larval hosts for butterflies.

  • Callicarpa americana, American beautyberry, is grown for its purple berries that hang in clusters in fall.
  • Most hydrangeas have beautiful fall color. If you leave the blooms of  arborescens‘Annabelle,’ they later turn golden brown. Also, look for H. paniculata ‘Limelight’ and H. quercifolia, oak leaf hydrangeas.
  • Viburnum dentatum, arrowwood viburnum, blooms white and has vibrant fall foliage. With cross pollination, it produces small blue-black fruit.
  • Aronia arbutifolia‘Brilliantissima,’ red chokecherry, grows to six to eight feet and can be limbed up as a small tree or left as a specimen shrub. It blooms white in spring and then produces small fruit against red fall foliage.

Fall-flowering perennials.

  • grouping of assorted flowering perennials
    Grouping of assorted flowering perennials

    Goldenrod is one of the best nectar plants. If you grow more than one type, you will find it flowers over a long period. Solidago canadensismultiplies rapidly in wet soil. Rigid goldenrod is an upright blooming native. rugosa ‘Fireworks’ is a selection which grows shorter and more compact than many species.

  • Asters. Cut back asters a couple of times in June so they won’t grow tall and flop. Heath aster, should be grown in poor sandy soils and has tiny snow-white blooms. Drummond’s aster, is often seen on Oklahoma roadsides, but Bluebird’ smooth aster is my favorite.
  • Helianthus angustifolius, narrow leaf sunflower, grows to be six feet or more so place it in the back of the garden.
  • Mums aren’t just for fall. Instead of planting the ones which only last for three weeks and are gone, try true garden mums like‘Will’s Wonderful’ or ‘Cathy’s Rust.’
  • Many sedums are good fall performers in dry, sunny locations. ‘Neon’ has magenta florets and ‘Postman’s Pride’ has dark foliage.

Annuals and tropicals

  • Some varieties of amaranth can grow to five to eight feet with burgundy or autumnal-colored, plumed seed heads.
  • Salvia-leucantha,-Mexican-bush-sage

    Salvia leucantha, Mexican bush sage, begins flowering in September and continues until the first freeze. Sometimes, it overwinters which is a bonus.

  • Crotons, usually sold as houseplants, have bright leaves of yellow, green, rust, and even pink that look great in containers until a hard freeze.
  • Ornamental peppers. You can start these from seed indoors or buy transplants.
  • Salvia elegans ‘Aurea’ golden pineapple sage has beautiful leaves and flowers red in fall.

I hope some of these plants help your garden spring forward into fall.

Category: Gardening

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