Colourful autumn flowering perennials emerge after the summer blooms have faded and feed insects preparing for winter. Discover some of the most beautiful autumn flowering plants.
Autumn perennials are characterised by late flowering or autumn colouring in bright, cheery hues. The following are some particularly attractive autumn flowering perennials, along with their soil and care requirements.
Hardy blue-flowered leadwort
Hardy blue-flowered leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), sometimes called plumbago, brings a special dash of colour to the garden. In autumn, the foliage of this hardy perennial turns wine red. The flowers of Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, on the other hand, form a colourful contrast in azure. The plants, which grow to a height of 30 cm, flower between August and October and spread by runners, forming pretty carpets of flowers. Hardy blue-flowered leadwort is best suited to well-draining, poor, chalky and dry soils in full sun. It is suitable for rock gardens, under tall shrubs or along sunny, dry, stone walls. Young plants are somewhat sensitive to frost in the first few years, which is why the plumbago should be planted in spring and given some protection in harsh winters.
Perennial chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum) are particularly colourful in autumn, rivalling even the most colourful autumn leaves. The Marguerite daisy (Chrysanthemum frutescens) is especially popular as a balcony plant. But it also brings colour to the garden in sunny and warm locations. For chrysanthemums to unfurl their full splendour, they need to be cared for properly. Water the plants daily during warm weather, otherwise their large leaves will soon be droopy. After chrysanthemums flower in autumn, prune the plants back and protect the root balls from frost with leaves or fir branches. Keep chrysanthemums in pots in frost-free and cool in winter quarters, such as in a garden shed. In early summer, chrysanthemum appreciate a little fertiliser and will reward you again in autumn with its beautiful flowers.
The name stonecrop (Sedum) sounds anything but elegant and beautiful, but in reality, stonecrop is stunning and quite the survival artist. Though their flowers are miniscule, stonecrops steal the spotlight when their large saucer-shaped inflorescences bloom in autumn. But that is not the only thing that makes the stonecrop perfect for creating an autumnal sea of flowers. Thanks to its ability to store water, stonecrop is also very robust, heat tolerant and low-maintenance. In addition, many varieties are perennial and hardy, embellishing our flower beds for many years. Stonecrop thrives in dry, well-drained and somewhat nutrient-deficient soil that receives full sun.
Heather plants (Ericaceae) are robust long-lasting flowering shrubs, whether winter-, summer- or autumn-blooming. The various species and varieties of the evergreen heather produce tiny flowers, some of which are bell-shaped or remain as buds, in various shades of white and pink. Common heather (Calluna vulgaris) blooms from August until November, when the temperatures drop and many summer flowers are already hitting the hay. Flowers that remain in the bud stage do not fade, and their splashes of colour shine a ray of joy even on gloomy days. Heather plants need an acidic soil, as they originate from bog and peat regions. Many garden soils are too calcareous – these must be improved with an acidic substrate so that bog plants can thrive. Rhododendrons (Rhododendron) and blueberries (Vaccinium) also thrive in acidic soil.
The graceful Chinese anemone (Anemone hupehensis) is simply a must among hardy autumn perennials. Its large, eye-catching flowers shine in white, pink or red from July to October. The downy, white fruit clusters that many varieties produce in autumn are also highly decorative. Chinese anemones, unlike many other autumn-flowering plants, prefer a semi-shady location but can also thrive in full sun. The most important thing for them is a steady supply of water and humus-rich soil. Avoid waterlogging at all costs. With these care measures, Chinese anemones are quite robust. Chinese anemones grow quite slowly at first, taking almost two years to fully establish themselves. Following that, the Chinese anemone forms runners and can spread over a relatively large area.
Whether in classic white, vibrant red or elegant purple: autumn asters (Symphyotrichum) are the autumn flowers par excellence. Their flowers vary considerably in colour, shape, and size and, they can bloom until November depending on the variety. With the right varieties, you can have these beautiful flowers blooming along your garden border almost all year round. The alpine aster (Aster alpinus), for example, starts to flower as early as May, followed by the Italian aster (Aster amellus) in summer. Even so, autumn is and always will be the season of the aster: heath, bushy starwort and New England asters (Symphyotrichum ericoides, Aster dumosus and Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) all provide colourful beds and one of the last food sources for insects before winter. They prefer to grow in sunny, nutrient-rich and well-drained locations. Overall, asters are extremely easy to care for. After flowering, simply prune them back to a hand’s width above the ground.
The globe thistle (Echinops) is an autumn-flowering perennial that is especially beneficial to bees and bumblebees. The upright plant can reach a height of 150 cm and displays its spherical flower heads between July and September. They can be white, pale violet or steel blue and offer large quantities of nectar and pollen in the numerous tiny flowers that make up the globe. This robust and undemanding perennial prefers dry, nutrient-rich sites with good water drainage and full sun. The globe thistle is suitable for planting in natural gardens and along the edge of woodlands. In particularly suitable locations, it can become overgrown. Globe thistles can be kept in check by dividing them on a regular basis.
The Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi) is related to the Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) and likewise forms the typical papery lantern covers around its bright orange berry fruits. This perennial does not flower in autumn, but it does display its magical fruits then. In autumn, the lanterns turn deep orange, making an eye-catching display. As a member of the Solanaceae family, it prefers sandy-humus, slightly calcareous and nutrient-rich soil that bears water evenly. As for location, a sunny to semi-shady spot is ideal. In suitable conditions, Chinese lanterns can grow rampant and spread considerably, so put a root barrier in the hole before planting. The plant itself is considered slightly poisonous. The fruits, on the other hand, are edible, even if their bitter taste win them few admirers. The orange lanterns are much more popular in autumnal arrangements and wreaths.
Another head turner with a less-than-elegant name, bugbane (Cimicifuga simplex) belongs to the Ranunculaceae family and is, therefore, a poisonous garden perennial. Despite this, bugbane is a well-loved perennial with its white, pink, or red filigree flowers on long, thin stems. Bugbane reaches a height of 150 to 180 cm and flowers between September and October. Depending on the variety, not only the flower colours vary, but also the foliage can be red to dark purple or brown. Caring for this delicately flowering autumn perennial is quite uncomplicated. Bugbane is fully hardy as well as resilient, needing little attention as long as the location is suitable – it prefers moist soil with good water retention in partial shade or sun.
Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), also called coneflower, can be found in any cottage garden, as it is a particularly attractive flowering autumn perennial. The numerous, sunflower-like blooms appear between July and October. Black-eyed Susans provide food for numerous pollinating insects from late summer onwards and make lovely cut flowers. These robust and easy-care perennials can grow from 50 to over 300 cm tall, depending on the species. They grow in dense clumps and prefer fresh to moist, nutrient-rich and well-drained soil in full sun. Echinacea, a medicinal plant, is also commonly called coneflower, but it is only distantly related to the rudbeckia.
Talk about a moisture-loving perennial, Eupatorium is particularly suitable for growing along a pond or garden border. The numerous varieties differ in height between 80 and 300 cm. The huge, fragrant flower umbels can be pale pink, pure white or a strong blue. The Eupatorium flowers between July and October, offering large quantities of nectar and pollen to numerous pollinators, especially bees and butterflies. Not only is it a pretty autumn-flowering perennial, but it also helps our tiny buzzing neighbours replenish their winter stocks. Eupatorium prefers sunny to semi-shady locations with fresh to moist, nutrient-rich and calcareous soils. In spring, prune this autumn-flowering perennial back to a hand’s width above the ground before new shoots appear.
In addition to the colourful autumn perennials, many annuals also flower until the first frost. Check out our article on the 10 most beautiful autumn flowers and their location and care requirements.