Alternative fall perennials

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(HOST) With proper planning, your flower garden can continue to glow with color until fall foliage takes over. Commentator Charlie Nardozzi has some suggestions about how to do that.

(NARDOZZI) It’s August in the garden. Vegetables are piling up in the kitchen, and the annual flowers are hitting their stride in the flower garden. It’s easy to forget that late summer and fall is also
a great time for the perennial garden.

When you mention fall perennials, most gardeners think of flowers such as sedum, aster and chrysanthemum. But there’s a whole host of other fall blooming perennials that will complement your annuals and provide a bridge to Mother Nature’s color show in late September and October. Here are some of my favorites:

Helenium is commonly known as sneezeweed. The common name was probably derived from the fact that early settlers used the dried flowers for snuff. Don’t worry: it won’t exacerbate your allergies and make you sneeze more. This three to five-foot tall perennial is hardy to zone three and produces waves of small, sunflower-like blossoms that range in color from yellow to orange to red. Helenium grows best in full sun and can tolerate moder- ately wet soils.

Another aster family flower is the shade-loving Ligularia. The three- foot tall plant has dark green, coarsely-toothed leaves. Its growth is non-descript until late summer when spikes of bright yellow flowers soar above the foliage. Since Ligularia loves moist, shady sites, it’s a great plant to grow and brighten up a hosta or fern garden.

Goldenrod is an underappreciated native plant. This pioneer plant moves into abandoned farm fields and meadows. It flowers from late July until frost and has been falsely accused of being the cause of hay fever and other pollen allergies. Actually, it’s the in- conspicuous ragweed flower that blooms at the same time that’s the culprit. The wild species is an aggressive plant that will quickly take over a perennial border. However, plant breeders have created shorter, less aggressive, clump-forming varieties such as the three to four-foot tall ‘Fireworks’ and the two-foot tall ‘Cloth of Gold.’ These plants are hardy and carefree, and they make great cut flowers.

Now here’s a way to get the best of two popular fall perennials. Solidaster is a cross between aster and goldenrod. It produces a two-foot tall plant that resembles the goldenrod with its soft canary yellow, papery flowers, but is less aggressive in its growth habit.

Finally, one of my favorite fall perennials is the great blue lobelia. This stately plant grows quietly all summer until late August when it produces three-foot tall, vivid blue flower spikes. It grows best in part shade and in moist soils, and it’s hardy to zone three. It pro- vides a great color contrast when grown with goldenrods and as- ters, but watch out: great blue lobelia seedlings will pop up in spring around the garden, and they need to be dug diligently or they will become weeds.

So with a little planning, early fall can be a time to rev up the color engines in anticipation of Mother Nature’s big show in the forest.

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Shelburne.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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