Top 10 Fall Beauties

A photo of Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower), photo courtesy Walter's Gardens

As the days shorten and leaves on trees turn from verdant greens to brilliant yellows, oranges and reds, it can be easy to just look up. Here are 10 perennial plants that will keep your eyes glued down.

By Abby Elliott

(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener September 2015 issue.)

As the days shorten and leaves on trees turn from verdant greens to brilliant yellows, oranges and reds, it can be easy to just look up. Here are 10 perennial plants that will keep your eyes glued down.

Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal Flower

If it’s fall, chances are the St. Louis Cardinals are gearing up for a playoff run. Show your support with the Missouri native the Cardinal Flower. The aptly-named red blossoms reach into the sky starting late summer into fall. Hummingbirds absolutely go gaga for these perennials. Preferring moist locations, Cardinal Flower excels in wet or low spots in the garden. Although a short-lived perennial (most plants don’t live longer than 3-4 years) Cardinal Flower can be a prolific reseeder—be judicious with your weeding. They can tolerate full sun, but do best when protected with some afternoon shade.

Actaea matsumurae (formerly Cimicifuga simplex) ‘White Pearl’, Bugbane

A photo of Cimicifuga 'White Pearl'

Cimicifuga ‘White Pearl’

White, bottlebrush blossoms elegantly float on 2’ tall narrow stems over bright green lacey foliage. Also known as Fairy Candles, I love the almost magical way the tall flowers dance in the fall breeze. Blooms appear in late summer and can last well into fall — sometimes as late as November. Reaching 3-4’ tall it makes an excellent plant for the back of the shade border.

A photo of Aster 'Kickin Sapphire'

Aster ‘Kickin Sapphire’

Aster dumosus ‘KickinTM Sapphire’, Aster

I have to say it: This gorgeous plant really kicks Aster. Sunny yellow-centered blossoms surrounded by pastel blue petals fill every square inch of the foliage during late summer and fall. Butterflies love the sweet nectar, and you’ll love how they create the perfect dome with no pinching!

Schizachyrium scoparium, Little Bluestem

This handsome Missouri native is a real tough-guy. Its slender leaves emerge green with a

A photo of Little bluestem, photo courtesy Robert Weaver

Little bluestem, photo courtesy Robert Weaver

blue tint at the base then turn brilliant scarlet-orange in fall. Reaching 6-7’ deep, Little Bluestem’s roots grow almost twice as long as its 3-4’ height, giving this beauty extreme drought tolerance once established. There are only two jobs needed to care for this plant: cut it down at the end of winter or early spring, and marvel over the beauty and toughness of this grass.

Panicum virgatum ‘Cheyenne Sky’, Switch Grass

A photo of 'Cheyenne Sky' Switch grass, photo courtesy Robert Weaver

‘Cheyenne Sky’ Switch grass, photo courtesy Robert Weaver

Before winter hits have your garden go out in a blaze of glory with ‘Cheyenne Sky’. In early summer 2’ tall steel blue-green blades become tipped with burgundy red. As summer turns to fall the entire grass gets drenched in a rich wine-soaked red. The matching flowers look like a cloud floating over the vibrant blades, a distinguishing characteristic of this tough prairie grass. Cheyenne Sky reaches only 3’ tall when in bloom, making it easy to fit into a mixed perennial garden and containers.

A photo of Chelone (Turtlehead), photo courtesy Robert Weaver

Chelone (Turtlehead), photo courtesy Robert Weaver

Chelone oblique, Turtle Head

Bright rose pink snapdragon-like flowers bloom on erect deep glossy green foliage in late

summer and early fall. Turtle Head gets its unique name from the shape of its flowers that, you guessed it, really look like the heads of little turtles. This excellent Missouri native will tolerate just about any soil and light condition, but performs best in damp, partially shady areas. Grows about 2-3’ tall and wide; may need to be staked in deeper shade.

A photo of Heuchera 'Melting Fire'

Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’

Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’, Coral Bell

Thought not a fall bloomer, ‘Melting Fire’ Coral Bells needs to be on this list of top fall beauties due to its show stopping fall foliage and versatility. Melting Fire easily fits into a shady garden with its interesting foliage and frothy white summer blooms, but it does so much more. Featuring highly-ruffled burgundy leaves, the foliage acquires a bright purple wash as the weather cools. Moreover, Melting Fire keeps its spectacular leaves all winter long since it’s evergreen! This special beauty fits into woodland gardens, works in formal plantings by front doors, or in containers that transition from fall to winter.

A photo of Amsonia hubrichtii, photo courtesy Walter's Gardens

Amsonia hubrichtii, photo courtesy Walter’s Gardens

Amsonia hubrictii, Arkansas Bluestar

One of my all time favorite plants, Arkansas Bluestar must be included on the fall beauties

list. Powder blue star-shaped flowers bloom in clusters on the top of Bluestar’s foliage in spring, but it’s the feathery, ferny leaves that act as the real star. Its bright green foliage just begs to be touched-I can’t walk by a clump without running my hands along the soft foliage. All its beautiful tactile foliage turns brilliant gold in fall. It makes a great accent planted in a mixed perennial garden. However, I love it grown in large masses where it looks like a pile you just want to dive on into. Grows 2-3’ tall and wide.

a photo of Tricrytris hirta (Toadlily)

Tricrytris hirta (Toadlily)

Tricyrtis spp., Toad Lily

A unique beauty, Toad Lily offers a fall show for the shady garden. In fall, fascinating orchid-like white flowers with purple to blue speckles appear. Be sure to plant these near pathways where the flower can be easily inspected, as these blossoms are absolutely impossible to resist a closer look! Moreover, these perennials boast bright green foliage that grows up and down graceful, slightly arching stems in a loose vase form. The foliage alone is reason enough to have this plant in your garden, but the blooms will make you want to try every Toad Lily available. Grows 2-3’ tall and wide.

A photo of Anemone 'Honorine Jobert', photo courtesy Walter's Gardens

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, photo courtesy Walter’s Gardens

Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’, Japanese Anemone

Blooming powerhouse ‘Honorine Jobert’ Japanese Anemone claims bright white 2-3” flower

petals with golden sepals surrounding kiwi green centers. Flowers float high over deep green glossy foliage August through September. Developed in the 1850s in France, it has been a perennial favorite for over 150 years.  Honorine Jobert was been named the 2016 Perennial Plant of the Year by Perennial Plant Association, a group of the top perennial growers. I recommend planting these where they can be seen from your patio, you will want to see them glow at dusk when enjoying an evening outdoors.

Abby Elliott is owner and a speaker at Sugar Creek Gardens Nursery in Kirkwood, Missouri. She has degrees from the University of Missouri, and is a member of the Landscape and Nursery Association of Greater St. Louis.