Autumn has a distinctive feel. I'm affected by the change of seasons, but not as much as the ending of summer and the beginning of the holidays, just before The Big Sleep.

Think of how it feels to take a weekend drive through the countryside in fall, and how impossible it seems that flowers, plants and trees can come in so many colors and shades for the fall palette. It looks like Mother Nature has set the world on fire with a riot of incredibly powerful shots of color, fragrances in the air that belong only to autumn, and that distinctive feel of plants and animals getting ready for a season of slumber. Complete with a thick carpet of color beneath them.

You knew when spring came, because you just about burst into song the day of the last freeze because the Cabin Fever broke. You knew when summer was past, and a new season of holidays and indoor gatherings has come. It has a totally different feel. Fall is like Mother Nature's consolation prize for taking summer and the outdoors away from you for a while. The colors are hot and bold, and continuously changing until the leaves drop.

If autumn color is what you want, as well as spring and summer beauty, it will take a bit of advance homework, but it's easily do-able. And you can start doing it in spring and summer. I used to place straw bales from the farm around and in the backyard garden at the beginning of September. Use these to set pots of mums, interesting bare branches and pumpkins in and on, or sit one of your ornamental garden folk on top. I also used bushel baskets and pint baskets I got from area farms and flea markets in arranging my scenery. 

There are so many possibilities. Just concentrate on the colors and large assortment of flowers and fruits in their natural fall attire. If you have the room in an unused area of the summer garden, you might want to grow some of the funky gourds and small pumpkins in unusual colors so that you can decorate the main area of your garden after they're picked. After the season, many types of gourds can be dried and kept for ornamental purposes, or dry and craft into hanging bird houses. Some are the gourds used to make maracas (my favorite). I had several gourd birdhouses, and they were used by many bird families.

Some tall and not-very-average perennial plants to consider trying to add to an Autumn Garden. 
They're native plants and bloom for a while. I prefer smaller varieties of fall flowers that 
grow in neat and colorful mounds, and a few tall varieties in the back of the beds.

If you have room around your summer flowers, plant them in-ground. Or just create a potted Autumn Flower Garden 
to add when the summer flowers are done for the season.  Potted perennials can be left outside in their pots, if the pot is large enough. 
(do not use clay pots if leaving outside all winter. They will surely crack once water soaks in, freezes, and expands, unless wrapped).


Part of a big group of native plants in the daisy family, helenium offers cheery yellow, orange, or red blooms at the end of the season. And despite its common name of sneezeweed, it won't aggravate your allergies. It is so named because the flowers were made into snuff in the past, used to induce sneezing to clear out congestion.

Name: Helenium autumnale

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: To 5 feet tall

Zones: 3-8


A fun plant with a fun name, turtlehead earned its name because of the shape of its purplish-pink blooms. Clusters of these unique flowers appear around August and keep going until freezing weather sets in. This perennial likes damp soil, so it makes a good choice near water gardens or in bog gardens.

Name: Chelone lyonii

Growing Conditions: Part shade and consistently moist soil

Size: To 3 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Tall Asters

Asters of all types bear tons of pink, blue, purple, or white flowers that are gorgeous in a vase or in the garden. Butterflies and many other pollinators flock to these flowers. This is a very tall variety for the back of a border or as an edging along fences.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: To 6 feet tall
Zones: 4-8


Contrary to popular belief, goldenrod is not a source of seasonal allergies (ragweed, which blooms at the same time, is the allergen).

Name: Solidago rugosa

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: To 4 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Perennial Sunflower

While most gardeners are familiar with the big-blooming annual sunflowers, perennial species are every bit as beautiful. 'Lemon Queen' produces beautiful creamy-yellow blooms in late summer and early fall. So does Mexican Sunflower.

Instant sunflowers: If you feed sunflower seed mixes to your birds, you know they are constantly dropping seed, and that the seed will grow into plants if you don't pull them out. 

I make a habit of leaving a few to grow into the fall. None of them are as tall as the typical sunflower plant. They are the basic shorter sunflower, but very pretty. The look nice among the taller perennial varieties as filler. The dried seed heads will be a source of free bird food, and the plant will die in the winter. Leave the seed heads on for a time if the birds don't devour them right away.

Name: Helianthus maximiliani. perennial

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: To 8 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Mexican Bush Sage

Dozens of plants in the sage family are native to North America, and Mexican bush sage is one of the showier ones you can grow. It has downy, white stems, gray-green willowy leaves, and spikes of pinkish purple flowers that attract hummingbirds. It's perennial in the warmer regions of the U.S. but can be grown as an annual in colder areas where it isn't hardy.

Name: Salvia leucantha

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: To 4 feet tall
Zones 8-10

Anise Hyssop

This tough, drought-tolerant perennial looks beautiful for months in summer and fall. That's when anise hyssop is covered with spikes of lavender-blue, licorice-scented flowers that pollinators love. It's also known as hummingbird mint because this mint family relative draws plenty of these winged visitors.

Note:  Whenever I see "Mint family" in any plant suggestion, I warn you -- grow them in p0ts no matter how beautiful. I have found all plants in the mint family to be aggressively invasive when not contained. You will NEVER rid your garden of culinary mints, and I'm sure it's the same for any mint. It had defied pulling and moving, 20% acid vinegar baths, bleach, and even asphalt and cement barriers in my driveway. I am sure their running roots traveled an acre underground. They're all very pretty and valuable culinary herbs, but do not plant them in the ground unless you are growing a meadow or open field. Your neighbors will hate you. Whatever you grow them next to will be smothered and run over. Give them their own pots and do not let them reproduce.

Name: Agastache foeniculum

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: To 5 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Giant Hibiscus

Another beautiful, tall plant to grow is the Giant Hibiscus, hardy in the north (I grow them in zone 6). Cousin of Rose of Sharon, It grows on very tall stems and covers itself with 10-12 inch blooms along fences and in the backs of rows from July til frost. They will return year after year. That can be the first-blooming plant in your Autumn garden. They are available in white and reds to blend with the fall colors, as well as the customary pinks.

They will need to be staked and sometimes tied. Mine grow to 6-7 ft. along my fence line. They die down to the ground in late fall, and begin growing again in June. Do not make the mistake of planting Tropical Hibiscus - they are not all hardy. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Full sun, part shade. Zero maintenance.

For the year-round and four season garden, choose plants with long (until after frost) bloom times, in yellows, oranges and reds for the transition into fall. Choose foliage plants that turn a bright range of autumn colors and late season shades of green. They take up where the flowers left off.

Where and What To Plant

The best place to present this riot of seasonal color, would be the front garden, or where it will be most prominent. The dwarf and weeping Japanese Maple is a small and beautiful Zen gift from heaven. It's colors were made for fall. It's delicate and classy shape and leaves bring the look of a Japanese or Zen garden into your backyard every season of the year. 

My bamboo is evergreen. The dwarf maples are beautiful together until the leaves fall from the maple. Even afterwards, because the branches take on a slow-growing, twisty, winding shape that you can train, and the garden still looks fully dressed. 

Ornamental grasses have beautiful fall colors that change as it gets colder. There are reds, burnt oranges, yellows, and most have tall and feathery or wheat-like seed heads that wave on the breeze, giving a sense of movement to the entire garden.

Autumn is actually a great decorating opportunity. Big chrysanthemums, fall blooming iris, roses, and sunflowers. All are beautiful in the fall garden. Plants that produce large and ornate seed pods are perfect for ornament, and so are dwarf varieties of sunflowers. The birds will pick those seed heads clean for winter. Free Birdseed. 

Think about ornamental branches and berries - there are many shrubs that produce pretty ornamental or edible berries for fall and winter. The same birds that enjoyed the seed heads are also waiting for them. Anything with colored branches and twigs, or unusual seed pods works beautifully in the fall and snows of winter months to cheer you up. That winter image of the cardinal and berries in snow - that's real. Some berries are not eaten by birds, but they look beautiful into the winter months.


Potted flowering plants make it an easy transition into fall. You don't have to make more room to plant them in-ground, and they can be moved to your heart's content.

Add some small groundcover evergreens and foliage plants, a dwarf red maple or two in pots, that will transform into bold and fiery accents that keep changing their colors.

Ornamental grasses come in many shades. Some are colorful in summer, then reward you with a lot of bonus fall color. Those with delicate wheat-like blooms are perfect. Plants in pots makes them easy to arrange, and you'll get two seasons of color, and the maples have natural autumn shades of leaf color. 

Chrysanthemums get busy growing in the spring, and come September, they take over the show. I've had them blooming at the end of December during mild winters. Put pumpkins and gourds, and red or orange ornamental grasses all over the garden in the gaps left behind by plants that are finished for the season, and in-between put ornamental things that speak of harvests and Thanksgiving. Hang Indian Corn in bunches on your fence. 

List of Fall Bloomers You'll Love

Alstroemeria, commonly called the Peruvian lily or lily of the Incas.

Anemone – which makes excellent cut flowers that should last in a vase for over a week.

Aster – a beautiful perennial with yellow center and white, red, pink, purple, lavender or blue petals.

Black-Eyed Susan should last in a vase for up to 10 days



Cosmos – an herbaceous perennial from the sunflower family.

Gerbera Daisy – florists’ favorite has a long vase life.

Hydrangea –  blooms from late spring to late autumn.

Re-blooming Iris – a hardy perennial that comes in many color combinations, including blue and purple, white and yellow, pink and orange, cream and red, and even black.

Nerine – a pink autumn flowering bulb, which will flower for years once established. Bulbs are plantedPlant these bulbs in spring.

Rose – some of the garden varieties are perpetual bloomers through fall.

Bittersweet – a semi-woody herbaceous perennial vine that looks wonderful in vases and window box arrangements.

Perennial Zinnia –  blooms from mid-summer all the way until the first hard frost.


Easier than another round of planting in the summer for the fall, pot up fall plants like asters and chrysanthemums in bold and colorful pots, along with a few leafy shrubs and small trees that boast fall color, that can just move right in after the summer blooms are done. Get re-blooming irises in yellows, oranges and purples. I did that and the combination is amazing. The design of an Autumn Garden is a little different. You would specifically design your garden to bloom in autumn, turn particular colors, or be moveable in pots according to a design plan in your imagination. Just think of the colors, and it will come to you easily. The trick is to transition the new plants in pots into the empty spaces left by the summer blooms that are going to bed for the winter. 

Planting in pots keeps you from having to find space and disturbing your other plants. Place them on plant stands and ornamental metal plant shelves for differing heights (and you don't need to find space - go vertical). I place several large centerpiece pots in the centers of my elevated raised garden beds, to give them height. Most of the plants in the raised beds go to sleep after the summer, so these pots filled with fall flowers are instant garden-makers.

There are several groundcovers suitable for filling in-between plants, as well. Creeping Jenny is a bright yellow-green that creeps along and forms a mat between plants. Not invasive at all. Jut spreading politely. The green/yellow combo is beautiful with the oranges and reds of fall flowers and foliage.

 Chrysanthemums come in lots of sizes and colors and they're another zero-maintenance plant except for summer pinching to keep them bushy.

Don't forget the window boxes and add silks - Another easy trick I use every season - and don't let anyone look down their noses at you...... I use high quality, weather-resistant silk flowers, berry sprigs, vines, and multi-flower bushes. The best and most realistic-looking that I can find. In window boxes, and in empty spaces in the garden, or where nothing much grows there. A bowl or metal container with higher end silk flowers and foliage looks beautiful on the tables in your seating areas, and among the flowering plants. Do it and expand your design with class. My window boxes have done me in every year. I can't grow a lot in the full sun in a box less than a foot deep. And then, you have the stragglers and the ones 2 stories up  that just give up the ghost. You have to keep replacing dead things with new living things. Never the right mature size in summer. That's when I began to decorate the gardens with a sprinkle here and there of life-like florals in bare spots and useless corners.  The window boxes are too high and out-of-the way for folks to peer at too closely and recognize the posers. Mine have lasted 5 or 6 years before the harsh Pennsylvania weather killed them.  I change them out, and my outdoor decorative house flag,  with the seasons. On or off-season. If you purchase good silks, they will last a long time and people will ask you where to get the flowers you're growing They are worth every penny, in combination with your garden beauties.

Visit this page for ideas about growing and decorating window box arrangements.

If you plan well, it will be no trouble at all growing an Autumn Color Garden, and you can do it in no time. There are many perennial foliage and evergreen plants that are already available in those colors and shades that can be grown all the time. They laugh at the cold weather, and return every spring and summer, waiting for the spring and summer flowers to do their things. Lucky gardeners will get those plants that bloom summer til frost. A good shrub for that is white Hydrangea. It blooms it's head off, and as it gets close to fall, it presents another array of changing colors from white with green, to cream, to pink, til frost kills it. You can leave the flowers on the shrub to dry, and pick them for indoor dried flowers in the winter. Or you can pick them, pop them into a vase, let the water naturally evaporate, and you still have beautiful dried and intact hydrangeas to decorate your home until next spring.

Another great plant for autumn color and textures are several varieties of sedum. The creeping and the mid-sized produce tight bunches of succulent leaves, topped in oranges, salmons, yellows and reds. Achillea pairs beautifully with them with their ferny, delicate leaves and clusters of airy blooms that attract pollinators from summer til fall. As does Bee Balm in differing shades of reds. I have long-season daisies in yellows and white that will re-bloom if dead-headed all summer.

Clematis and honeysuckle in pots and climbing on fences, trellises and walls - they add the vertical interest that most gardens heading into fall don't have. And you can hide anything unsightly by training them up or around it. My honeysuckle and clematis rotate their bloom times, and most varieties of both bloom until a freeze kills them for winter. They'll be back in spring even better than before. Orange and yellow trumpet vines and bittersweet are very pretty on arches and pergolas if you can control them in a pot - they are invasive otherwise. When my roses are done blooming (some in September, others in November or so), I allow my clematis wind it's way through the branches. They're amazing when growing together with roses in summer, and they extend the blooming season for you. They're very thin and delicate, so you don't have to fight them to tug them off the rose canes if you want to.

The fall garden is a little different that your summer garden. You won't be able to enjoy it for very long, so place your garden where you can enjoy it. Add decorative statuary and symbolic decor. A birdbath and feeder will bring the birds heading south to your garden for a break. The bloom time of some plants, like chrysanthemums, is long. But it will be too cold to sit out there before they're done. If you can put it near one of your windows, so that you can look at and enjoy it when it's too cold to sit outside, you'll enjoy it more. Best place is anywhere where you'll see and visit it during the day. 

So put out a bistro table and chair or a rustic bench among your garden decor so that you can sip a cup of coffee, tea, hot buttered rum or hot mulled cider during the last remaining Indian Summer days outdoors. The scent of wood burning stoves, apple and cinnamon scented candles, and the glow of warm white solar fairy lights are very enticing and beautiful at night. Which comes much earlier in fall. You might even want to place a few solar coach lanterns or fairy lights among your plants. Spend a few minutes in the evening enjoying it while you can. The nicest thing about the fall garden is that although the plants will die down for winter, those perennials will be back up and growing in time to put on a beautiful show next season without missing a step.



Article ©2021 Mary Hyland
All rights reserved.
May not be republished

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