Typically, fall is a great time to evaluate what worked in your gardens and what did not. It is a great time to see the holes in your landscape vista. It is a rewarding goal to enjoy a four-season palate. Living at altitude challenges the gardener to expand beyond the vibrant summer months of color, but it’s possible with a little planning. Late summer and early fall are a great time to plant. Often local growers have discounted their remaining inventory giving you an opportunity to try something different, giving you a chance to fill in your landscape and get a head start on next year!
The calendar says it’s fall and we’ve had a couple of cooler days but my late season bloomers are still quite full. I took a chance on a butterfly bush last year, not really expecting it to thrive at my elevation but it is still in bloom and attracting butterflies like crazy!
|Redbirds in a tree, pearly everlasting, and sunflower. September 2019|
For blooms late summer and fall in a sunny location, I absolutely love the Plant Select Red Birds in a Tree (Scrophularia macrantha). It is hardy, has bloomed since mid-summer, the hummingbirds love it and yes, the blooms do look like little red birds sitting on a perch! It pairs well with penstemons and Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). Pearly everlasting has sweet little white blooms, does well in lesser soils but tends to overwhelm and then lie down. Fortunately, it’s very easy to divide and move.
|Hummingbird Mint. October 2019|
Mix in Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Cleome serrulate), Prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora), sunflowers (Helianthus annuus and Helianthus maximiliana) and the Artemesia sages (Artemisia ludoviciana and Artemesia frigida) for a multi-textured color scheme. I love the Hyssops for odor and long-lasting blooms but after trying several varieties and babying them through the winter only to not have them come back, I’ve decided to plant them as annuals from now on. The Licorice Hummingbird mint (Agastache rupestris) is my favorite. Stonecrop does well at altitude, has an interesting texture and multi-season interest. The Voodoo Stonecrop (Sedum spurium voodoo) is a still a vibrant red.
|Stonecrop (Sedum spurium voodoo). October 2019|
For shadier areas, the Bugleweeds (Ajuga reptans) come in a variety of colors that show through late fall. There are also a number of varieties of Coral bells (Heuchera) with wildly different coloring, from very pale green leaves to almost black. When adding the Huechera, beware that deer and elk seem to like to go after them.
Shrubs thriving in sun will also give you options to extend color into fall. For maximum impact, try Chokecherry (Prunus virgiana), and Western Sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) which grow well to about 9,000 feet, flower in the summer, berry, and then turn reddish in the fall. Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) can be planted up to 10,000 feet and will turn yellow to red in the fall. Ninebarks (Physocarpus) also come in several varieties depending on your elevation. Physocarpus monogynus is the native hearty to 10,000 feet.
Native grasses give pretty much year-round interest and can be planted in landscape or container depending on your environment and taste. For lower altitude or container, Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) requires low water, turns purplish in the fall and then dries for winter interest. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) like its name is bluish during the growing months and turns red toward the end of the season. It is hardy to zone 3. Prairie switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), another native grass, grows green and transitions into pinkish burgundy.
Fall is also the perfect time to choose the first blooms of next season. Don’t forget to plant bulbs for those flowers that come, usually amid spring snow, that promise summer’s not TOO far. There are a number of more unusual ideas if you want something besides daffodils. Try Grape Hyacinth (Muscari auchera) in both purple and white, the mini Iris (Iris reticulata) and Fritillaria. Fritillaria has a number of really unusual varieties including Guinea Hen Flower (Fritillaria meleagris) which is hardy to zone 3. For additional color, add crocus! Intersperse or plant in groups for maximum impact.
Enjoy the fall color and last days of blooms, plan for next year, and embrace the big picture of our amazing landscape!
Sharon Faircloth is a master gardener in Jefferson County, CO.