Fall Garden Flowers of the Prairies

The golden strands of the prairie native, wrinkleleaf goldenrod, look right at home in a fall flower garden.

So many favorite summer garden flowers were originally natives of the American prairies–purple coneflowers, black-eyed-Susans, and blazing star among them. Fall is no exception. Whether you plant wild forms or garden varieties, flowers of the prairie are generally easy, tough landscape plants. (If they could withstand trampling and grazing by elk and buffalo, they surely can grow well in your garden!) Some can be planted now, while others can be added to your plant list for next spring.

It’s never too late or early to start thinking about next year’s flower garden, and late summer and fall is the time to see what’s looking beautiful or not-so-great in your garden. Look for holes where a little more color and interest could do some good. You might also make space by removing or thinning out any disappointing or overcrowded plants. Once space has been made, plant now or plan for next spring.

Fall Garden Flowers with Prairie Origins

Native prairie in Lake County, Illinois looks almost planted with its colorful New England asters and Canada goldenrod.

All of these stellar garden plants have their origins from native prairie wildflowers of North America and grow best in full sun and fertile to average soil with good drainage. Feed beds with organic matter yearly to keep your garden soil and plants happy. Black Gold Garden Soil or Flower & Vegetable Soil are excellent amendments for tired beds in need of a boost.

Fall Asters

Alma Potschke New England aster has brilliant reddish-pink, semi-double flowers

Perennial asters are favorite fall flowers, and most originate from American grass and prairie lands.  Their little daisies can be single, double, or even puffed and come in purple, violet-blue, white, reddish-purple, or shades of pink and lavender. There are many notable species. Of these, I like the tall New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, 2-6 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8) with its bright purple daisies and ability to grow in both moist and dry soils. Aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius, 2-6 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8), which is tolerant of poorer soil, is another winner with its fragrant foliage and lavender-blue flowers with golden centers.

Exceptional varieties include the classic Purple Dome New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’, 18 inches x 12-24 inches), which is compact and has the deepest purple flowers that bloom in midfall. The taller Alma Potschke New England aster ( Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’, 3-4 feet) has a wealth of semi-double flowers of reddish-pink. The cool October Skies aromatic aster (18 inches x 18 inches) bears a dense display of lavender-blue flowers with yellow centers on compact plants. Butterflies, birds, and bees love asters, but deer don’t.


Fireworks wrinkleleaf goldenrod shines alongside a planting of mums and ornamental peppers at Longwood Gardens. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Most associate the name Goldenrod with tall field weeds, but they are not weeds at all. (And, forget the old wive’s tale that they cause seasonal allergies; goldenrods bloom at the same time as allergy-causing ragweed, hence the confusion.) Nurseries have developed some beautiful varieties, worth planting in your garden for fall color. One of these is Golden Fleece goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’, 2 feet x 3 feet, Zones 4-9), which becomes heavily adorned with cascading streamers of bright golden flowers from the middle of September through October. Plant it in full sun and average to dry soil, then sit back and enjoy the butterflies. Trim off old flowers to encourage new ones. ‘Golden Fleece’ is deer resistant.

For a bolder statement try the Fireworks wrinkleleaf goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, 3-4 feet, Zones 4-9) with its impressive sprays of golden flowers that explode in mid-fall. Plant it towards the back of a border beside tall ornamental grasses, tall mums, and Joe-Pye weed.

Sunflowers and Oxeye Daisies

‘Tuscan Sun’ oxeye daisy is very pretty and heavy flowering. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Perennial sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and oxeye daisies (Heliopsis spp.) look similar, but oxeyes often bloom earlier and continue flowering into fall. One of my favorites is Burning Hearts oxeye daisy (Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra ‘Burning Hearts’, 3-4 feet, Zones 3-9), a particularly colorful and long-blooming variety that flowers from midsummer to mid-fall. It has purplish leaves and black stems that hold 3-inch flowers of gold with fire-red centers that fade to bronze.  Another excellent choice is Proven Winners’ all-gold ‘Tuscan Sun’ (2-3 feet, Zones 3-9). Be sure to water oxeyes during dry periods, and plant them in full sun. Bees and butterflies cannot get enough of these flowers.

The compact Autumn Gold willowleaf sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius ‘Autumn Gold’, 2-3 feet, Zones 5-10) has a mounding, mum-like habit and becomes covered with sunny, yellow flowers in mid to late fall. Leave the nutritious seed heads for foraging birds.  Once established, ‘Autumn Gold’ will tolerate wet or dry soil conditions, likes full sun, and is deer resistant.


Joe-Pye-weed is an excellent garden flower for feeding migrating Monarchs.

Spotted Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum, 3-7 feet, Zones 4-8) is a bold garden perennial that flowers from late summer to fall and commonly inhabits moist prairies. The wild form is useful in big garden borders alongside ornamental grasses, hardy hibiscus, and tall perennial sunflowers. Tamer options also exist. ‘Phantom’ is a maculatum hybrid that only reaches 4 feet tall and produces lots of puffy purplish-pink flowers on tidy, well-branched plants. They grow well in average to moist soil, full sun, and are a favorite of butterflies but not deer.

Muhly Grass

Beautiful pink Muhlenbergia capillaris has magnificent fall grass plumes.

The prairie-native muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris, 2-3 feet, Zones 6-9) is a tough, fall-blooming grass, with cloud-like puffy seed heads or rose or pink. An excellent variety is Regal Mist® with its ruby-pink clouds of grass plumes in fall that are still showy into winter.  It reaches 4-feet tall, does well in any well-drained soil, and is drought tolerant.  Plant muhly grass in full sun. Even though it is a grass, it is deer resistant.

Another fall grass for prairie gardens is Proven Winners’ Prairie Winds® ‘Blue Paradise’ little bluestem. The neat, upright bunch grass just reaches 3-4 feet and has steely blue blades that turn purple in fall. Leave it uncut for winter interest.


Rock ‘N Round™ ‘Popstar’ Sedum looks pretty along the edge of any fall bed.

There are some prairie sedums, though few to none are commonly available to gardeners, so I am improvising with a favorite garden variety.  Rock ‘N Round ‘Popstar’ (10-12 inches, Zones 3-9) is an excellent mounding stonecrop with loads of pink flowers late in the season, and purplish-gray leaves the rest of the growing season. Low-growing, fall-blooming stonecrops like Rock ‘N Round look beautiful when planted along the margins of a prairie-inspired garden.  The succulents have thick leaves that hold water and are tolerant of hot, dry spells. Most new varieties have fancy leaves that are beautiful all season long. Sedums are generally deer resistant.

When planting any of these fall beauties, dig a hole twice as large as the roots, incorporate a few handfuls Black Gold Garden Soil into the backfill.  Then plant your perennial. Follow up by adding a quality slow-release fertilizer.

Adding just a couple of these pretty fall flowers to your late-season display will give it a boost. Hardier varieties can be planted in the garden now, or save a few for your need-to-get spring list.

Plants for Creative Fall Container Gardens

Combine Intenz™ Dark Purple spike celosia, variegated sedge, and a dusty purple ornamental cabbage for a fun fall container trio.

Tired of planting the same old door-side potted chrysanthemums year after year?  Then upgrade this year’s containers! Lots of cool new fall plants have bold good looks and bright colors to make container design a lot more exciting.

What makes a container plant great for fall? Its must flaunt its best color through the season and shine up until the first frost or beyond. Those that tough it out after frost include ornamental cabbages, kales, and Swiss chard. Some of these fall beauties will even survive through winter as evergreen biennials or perennials. Here are some of our favorites for creative late-season container gardening.

Super Celosias and Amaranths

The plume Celosia ‘Fresh Look Red’ will ignite your fall containers.

Celosias and amaranths (two closely related plants) of all shapes, sizes, and colors have become available for fall gardening. These include spike celosia (Celosia spicata), classic cockscomb, plume celosias (Celosia cristata), and purple-leaved amaranths (Amaranthus spp.). The annuals are rugged and tolerant of heat as well as the cooling temperatures of fall, so they can be planted in summer and continue to look bright through fall. Just remember to remove any old blooms that start to lose color. This will encourage new flowers to appear.

Pretty Peppers

Jolly pots of mixed ornamental peppers make great additions to mixed fall container gardens.

Ornamental peppers start to look great by late summer, and their pretty fruits of orange, yellow, red, or purple will retain their color up until frost. Some even boast deep purple foliage as well as pretty fruits. The hot ornamentals mix well with any seasonal garden flower or plant, and you can even save seeds for spring sowing. The peppers are also edible and spicy, with varying degrees of flavor. (See the video below for more designs using ornamental peppers.)

Happy Heirloom Squash

A slate-blue hubbard squash, white ‘Cotton Candy’ pumpkin, and bumpy ‘Galeux d’Eysines’ pumpkin are nestled in a pot of Proven Winners’ Diamond Frost® Euphorbia.

Unusual pumpkins and winter squash are all the rage and look lovely when nestled in pots alongside complementary fall flowers. Most are very tasty, so it’s nice to bring them indoors before a hard freeze, so you can enjoy them in Thanksgiving pies, soups, or cakes. (Click here to learn how to process squash for pie.) Look for collections of squash that look good together or with your favorite fall flowers.

Sumptuous Evergreen Sedges

A single mop of evergreen ‘Toffee Twist’ sedge will fill a pot, adding interest to other colorful potted plants.

Many grassy sedges are tough evergreen perennials that add an airy appeal to fall containers and mix well with practically any fall flower. Some lovely evergreen sedges to try include the gold-edged Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Gold Band’, 12 inches, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9) or white-edged Silver Sceptre sedge (Carex ‘Silver Sceptre’, 12-18 inches, Zones 5-9); both have tidy bunches of colorful, curvaceous, strappy leaves that flow over container edges. Another star for containers is the finer, hair-like Toffee Twist sedge (Carex flagellifera ‘Toffee Twist’, 12-16 inches, Zones 7-9), a Proven Winners® plant with fine, caramel-colored foliage that looks great all winter.

Sturdy Succulents

A nest of evergreen hens & chicks is brightened by a single ‘Sweet Lightning’ mini winter squash.

Hardy succulents of all shapes and sizes look great in fall containers and will even survive the winter, where hardy. Go simple by nestling a few hens & chicks (Sempervivum spp.) within a small planter embellished with a few decorative additions. Or, go bold by planting a big, blooming sedum along with other fall flowers. Tall sedums are showy in fall, and there are many fabulous varieties to discover. (Click here to read more about tall sedums.)

Miniature Plants

Tiny hens & chicks, mosses, cabbages, thyme, heather, and sweet alyssum bring this mini fall garden to life.

Creating seasonal containers in miniature is a popular trend. Tiny hens & chicks, mosses, heathers, ornamental cabbages, and flowers give broad pots or troughs an alpine or rock garden look. Place plantings like these on an outdoor dinner or side table where they can be enjoyed up close. You can even try making your own hypertufa trough or centerpiece for attractive little fall plantings. (Click here to learn how to make your own hypertufa centerpiece.)

Planting Fall Containers

Give mums a lift with additions like purple heuchera, Sedum Rock ‘N Grow® Popstar, and arching willow branches.

Choose festive containers and arrangements of plants, and pair them according to color, size, height, and texture. For best results, choose good-fit containers that will accommodate the plants you have chosen, and fill them with Black Gold All Purpose Mix, which has excellent porosity and water-holding ability for great results. Keep pots watered through fall and feed them with quality plant food, such as Proven Winners® Premium Water Soluble Plant Food for Flowering Plants. Once hard cold hits, remove any unsightly dead annuals and leave any perennials in the pots for spring.

To get more excellent fall container garden planting and design tips, read Black Gold’s sponsored article on Garden Therapy: Fall Container Care and Maintenance + DIY Container Ideas!

Fantastic Fall Anemones for the Garden

Here it is October in the Pacific Northwest, and cool moist weather is upon us after a hot and dry summer. The recent rains and cool temperatures are a welcome relief to many plants (as well as to myself).  Many summer annuals are still performing, and the hardy fuchsias and dahlias will continue to flower heavily up until frost. This is also the time when the fall-blooming anemones, such as Japanese anemones and other fall types, look their best.

Japanese Anemones

The Chinese Anemone hupehensis has single pink-, white-, or rose-colored flowers.

Fall-blooming anemones are sometimes overlooked and under planted.  While there are several different species, by far the most common and widely planted is the Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica)Despite its name, the “Japanese” anemone is not actually native to Japan, but it comes from China.  Wide cultivation in Japan led to the escape of this plant into the wild. The wild Chinese species Anemone hupehensis has tall, airy, single flowers of purple, purple-red, pink, or white, that may bloom from later summer to fall. Anemone hupehensis var. japonica differs in that its flowers are semi-double to double.

Chinese Anemones

Other Asian fall-blooming anemones include the Chinese windflower (Anemone tomentosa), which has white hairs on its leaf undersides and tall, five-petaled, white or pinkish flowers that bloom from late summer to fall. Another Chinese native is the grapeleaf anemone (Anemone vitifolia), which has grape-like green leaves and white or purplish flowers that bloom from late summer to fall. Many popular “Japanese” anemones are actually hybrids of Anemone hupehensis, A. vitifolia, and A. tomentosa, and commonly referred to as A. x hybrida variants.

Fall Anemone Varieties

The white-flowered ‘Honorine Jobert’ has large single blooms. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the most common are white-flowering Japanese anemones, with the large-flowered ‘Honorine Jobert’ (A. x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’) being the best. It usually comes into flower in late August or early September and continues into October.  Because of its late-blooming habit, it makes an excellent addition to the fall garden with the bright white flowers being a focal point in the evening  Over the years, it will form large clumps with its fibrous, spreading roots.  It is best grown in a spot that is protected from the hot midday summer sun, but if given too much shade, its stems will be floppy.

The large, rose-pink, double flowers of ‘Prinz Heinrich’ are really impressive! (Image by Jessie Keith)

For a semi-double white Japanese anemone, look for the cultivar ‘Whirlwind’ (A. x hybrida ‘Whirlwind’). Two more impressive doubles are the rose-pink ‘Pamina’ (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica ‘Pamina’) and larger-flowered rose-pink ‘Prinz Heinrich’ (A. hupehensis var. japonica ‘Prinz Heinrich’). All are available at more specialized garden centers, and their impressive flowers make them well worth growing. Another common variety is the single pink (A. x hybrida ‘Robustissima’), which can bloom into November. All of these plants spread laterally over time to create substantial clumps, so give them plenty of space.

Growing Fall Anemones

Anemones like humus-rich soil, and Black Gold Garden Compost Blend is an ideal medium to add at planting time or as a winter mulch.  Even though anemones like evenly moist soil, they also need good drainage, and compost provides moisture retention, aeration, and facilitates drainage.  After plants have finished flowering, cut them back to ground level and divide them, if necessary.

These fall-blooming beauties prefer full to partial sun and are very easy to grow in our Pacific Northwest climate, and once established, plants will continue to spread. I would not consider them invasive because they are easy to control.  If you see some plantings in your neighborhood, perhaps a neighbor would be willing to share.  It is hard to think of a more reliable fall-blooming perennial.

I always have a difficult time removing summer annuals that are still performing, but the appearance of fall perennials like anemones makes it easier.  They bring the season lots of color and beauty just before the garden offers its farewell.

Large single pink flowers grace ‘Robustissima’ fall-blooming anemone.


Salvias for Fall-Migrating Hummingbirds

Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

Hummingbirds rely on the nectar of many fall-blooming salvias to assist in their late-season migration. The striking beauty, bright colors, and architectural statures of these plants also make them great for the garden. Most cultivated salvias are from Mexico and the Southwest United States, which is why pollinators migrating south are attracted to them. Their relationship is mutually beneficial; the flowers feed the birds and the birds pollinate the flowers.

Fall Salvias

Nonstop flowers of red, pink, or white appear on Salvia coccinea (Texas sage, 1-3′ tall, zones 8-10) starting in midsummer. These will continue well into frost and draw lots of hummingbirds. Deadheading old flower stalks will keep plants looking clean and attractive.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

The Brazilian red velvet sage (Salvia confertiflora, 4-6′ tall, zones 9-11) blooms with delicate spikes of tiny velvety red flowers. It is also bushy and large, reaching 4 to 5’ in height. Though its flowers feed tropical hummingbirds, they are also perfect for migrating North American species. They bloom from midsummer to season’s end. Just be sure give this plant lots of space.

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans, 3-4′ tall, zones 8-10) is an enormous, bushy sage best known for its aromatic leaves that smell of sweet pineapple. Its scarlet fall flowers make a spectacular show starting in early fall. The popular cultivar ‘Golden Delicious’ boasts outstanding golden leaf color all season long.

Autumn sage (Salvia greggii, 1-3′ tall, zones 6-9) blooms for much of the season but offers a strong fall flush of red, orange-red, white, pink, and purple flowers. Native to South Texas and Mexico, it is an essential wildflower for migrating hummingbirds. In its native form, it also looks nice in the garden. Cut late-summer stems back to keep this open but bushy perennial looking great.

Salvia leucantha 'All Purple' JaKMPM
Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha ‘All Purple’) (Image by Jessie Keith)

Height and elegance make Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage, 2-3′ tall, zones 8-10) one of the most outstanding fall salvias for large spaces. Streamers of soft, velvety flowers in shades of pink, purple, magenta, and white emerge on stems lined with silvery leaves in late summer and continue through fall. When not in bloom, its leaves still add visual flair.

Unique primrose-yellow flower color and long floral stems make forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis, 6-8’ tall, zones 7-11) a true architectural gem for the fall border. The enormous plant requires lots of room but looks great when well-placed in the landscape. Blooming starts in mid-fall and continues up until frost.

Growing Fall Salvias

All of these salvias are sun-loving and can take the heat, though they really shine in the cool of autumn. Plant them in spring for full effect, but also keep an eye out for large potted specimens to fit into late-summer beds. Before planting, amend the ground with Black Gold Garden Soil. Its mix of peat moss and compost makes for rich soil to support good growth.

Most of these salvias are tender, meaning they should be grown as annuals, but some are perennial where winters are mild. Fall-migrating hummingbirds and other pollinators will thank you for planting these gorgeous fall flowers, and your gardens will be none worse for the wear.

Salvia leucantha ‘All Purple’ appears in the background of a fall annual border, which also contains Lantana camara and Petunia Supertunia® Royal Magenta. (Image by Jessie Keith)