Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's Spring, Think Fall -- Get These Native Plants

I can't tell you how many gardeners I talk to who say they wished they had more fall-blooming plants. What is it with all this spring and summer stuff? Isn't THAT boring? Everyone's so excited to get as many flowers ASAP once the snow melts, then an early fall hits because you're out of blooms by August. Yikes.

Mid October, 2010
(various asters, grasses, coreopsis)

I garden for fall, when my landscape gets a massive second wind. Winter's already long enough, why not have flowers into November (in zone 5 anyway)? Not only will your seasonal affective disorder thank you, but so will many migrating birds and insects, as well as insects stockpiling for winter.

What you should plant now, ensuring a decent-sized plant by fall:

-- New England Aster (purple, not gaudy pink please)
-- Aster oblongifolius ('October Skies' blooms like mad for me and makes a nice small shrub)
-- Aster ericoides (a groundcover that blooms tons)
-- Aster laevis (smooth aster gets by far the most insects of any aster in my garden)
-- Aster lateriflorus (calico aster, chocolate leaves)
-- Aster macrophyllus (big leaf aster)

-- Goldenrod (I have stiff goldenrod--a monarch butterfly favorite--zigzag, wichita, and Ohio)

-- Mistflower (Eupatorium coelestium, blooms blooms blooms)

-- Salvia azurea ('Nekan' is a blue sage native to Lincoln, Nebraska, and I get hummingbirds on it)

-- Sunflowers, of course, yellow, red, orange, whatever

Hummingbird on Salvia azurea 'Nekan'

There are also late summer plants, say August into September, that are especially important for monarch butterflies as they migrate thousands of miles south:

-- Liatris aspera (rough blazingstar)
-- Liatris borealis (northern blazingstar)
-- Liatris ligulistylis (meadow blazingstar, and a monarch magnet--I've had six or more at a time on one plant)

(-- Milkweed -- don't forget to plant some well-behaved Asclepias incarnata or A. sullivantii to raise monarchs. Don't plant A. tuberosa, butterfly weed, as it is far less attractive to monarchs.)

Monarch on Liatris ligulistylis

Where to get these plants? Prairie Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery, or if in Lincoln, the UNL Arboretum.

As I continue to evolve as a gardener, I plant FOR INSECTS. I think it's easy to be afraid of bugs--especially bees and wasps--but they are the basis for life in the garden and beyond, and so I've come to find them beautiful and even honorable (particularly as they rid me of aphids). Think about what one aster laevis could do for struggling native bee populations or diminishing song bird populations. Just one aster off the patio is huge. And three? A godsend. If all the neighbors on your block have one? A veritable wildlife refuge.

If you haven't, I urge you to read Doug Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home, especially regarding the importance of native plants for native insects and birds. You'll discover which butterflies need which plants, by region, and how surprisingly beneficial trees and shrubs are (oak, willow, chokecherry...). The more native plants I get, the more wildlife I see, of ALL KINDS. Even butterflies ignore my non native plants, like butterfly bush, if natives are blooming. Astounding. But it makes sense.

Bumblebees on goldenrod

So it is / just was Earth Day. Get some fall-flowering plants in the ground and think ahead for yourself, and for the life we depend on that's swarming around you.


Jean Campbell said...

Great post. I'm always thinking about the next season even as I admire the present scene.

Heather Holm said...

Some great natives! I can't agree more about the meadow blazing star, a huge monarch magnet.
I've looking at the salvia, now you've convinced to get some although may not be hardy here.

Benjamin Vogt said...

NJ--Shoot, I'm already thinking about next spring.
H--Plant Delights has some, and they say zone 4. Obviously, do some research. Salvia azurea is all over the prairies here in the fall.

Out on the prairie said...

What a great garden. I had fun roving through your blog, I lived over there myself.I would love to see it when it fills out.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi Ben,
I enjoyed your post. I like to have blooms as early as possible, and continue to have some throughout the season, and into fall. I can't remember the names of all of my asters and liatrises. At the Spring Affair, I got punctata, aspera, and one other kind for my new planting area. I also got more asters, some agastache, and the pink phlox that Gail from Clay and Limestone likes so well. I usually don't buy plants as small as these were, but I was tickled to see them on the plant list, and went for them. They probably won't be blooming in the fall, but the insects will enjoy them and the other plants I got.

We finished putting the chicken wire around the vegetable garden today. I was so excited to be outside working in the dirt!

Benjamin Vogt said...

OOTP--You CAN see it when it fills out, just link on the "Garden" tab above, or click on the image of the arbor on the right. Thanks for stopping by! I wouldn't mind living in Iowa someday.
Sue--L. aspera is a good one! It's a very late bloomer and looks great. Mine get to 3-4' though. This year will be a banner year for me and liatris, by the looks of the shoots coming up.

scottweberpdx said...

Indeed...I'm in total agreement...I seem to have subconsciously planted primarily for late summer/fall...but it's amazing to see all those big, bold perennials looking so fabulous toward the end of the growing season...and the wildlife definitely appreciates it! I have to find that Misflower somewhere...I've looked for it locally, but can't seem to find any.

Donna said...

fantastic post...I have learned to plan for fall especially in my meadow with these same wonderful natives...Doug's book is a must read and I have also recommended it..thx for keeping this important message going...

Jess said...

It is one of my goals this year to have my plants be flowering in the fall, when its not so hot out I can't stand it!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Scott--Mistflower is online everywhere. I've given up on local nurseries for most native things.
Donna--Sometimes it seems like EVERYONE suggest's Tallamy's book, but it IS a must read!
Jess--That's a good point. In summer I only go out in late evening, with the skeeters, so only for 10 minutes. Fall is awesome.