Source: Debbie Green/Guest Columnist/Asheville Citizen-Times
¨As the leaves turn and leaf-peepers arrive, we tend to focus on autumn leaves as the source of natural beauty in the fall. But why look only to the trees?
There are many plants and shurbs that can make your garden — and our towns in WNC – beautiful throughout the autumn season.
Annuals & Perennials
While you´ll often see yards adorned with mums, ¨Autumn Joy¨ sedum, pansies and ornamental kale, there are many native plants that are just coming into their own in fall. Fall-flowering asters come in many colors and sizes — ¨October Skies¨ is one particularly attractive cultivar of a native aster species that grows only 1 to 2 feet tall and is covered in beautiful blue blossoms for much of the fall.
For deep shade areas, try the low-growing white wood asters. If you want plants for the back of the border, New England asters range up to five feet.
Goldenrods (Solidago app.) are also members of the aster famiily and come in many varieties. Although there are many named cultivars available at nurseries, you may have some desirable varieies that volunteer in your yard. I have allowed a large stand of tall goldenrod (Solidago canadensis/scabra) to grow along the roadway in front of my house — this reaches four to five feet tall and has large flower plumes that last for weeks. It spreads aggressiuvely by underground stolons and is great at keep out weeds and preventing erosion.
My favorite goldenrod is sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora) with its much more refined anise-scented shiny leaves, smaller plumes that reach only about two to three feet tall and a clumping habit. It spreads easily from seed if you encourage it!
Many other native wildflowers are beginninig to flower on roadsides and in gardens. For tall plants that make a strong statement, the yellow perennial swamp sunflower (Helianthus augustifolius) and the dusky purple Joe Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp.) are great for damper spots in your garden. The shorter turtle head (Chelone iyoni) named for the shape of its purple flowers, also thrives where soils are moist.
Shrubs also offer fall leaf color and bright berries. Fothergilla and oakleaf hydrangeas not only have good autumn color, but attractive bark once their leaves fall. American beautyberry (Calicarpa americana) with distinctive purple berries, chokeberries (Antonia arbutifolia with red berries , and Aronia melanocarpa with black berries), and winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata) with red berries are all well-behaved native shrubs that are desirable additions to your landscape.
Finally consider a vine to light up your fall landscape. Two deciduous native vines with fall appeal are Virginia Creeper for its beautiful red leaves, and Virgin´s Bower with delicate white flowers when much of the plant world is turning brown. Both can grow to great lengths in a single season, but are easy to pull up and to cut back during the winter if you keep them in a designated area. Best trained on an arbor or trellis, they can provide a pretty focal point.
Note that Virginia Creeper is not for growing on your home or any surface where its adhesive disks may cause damage. Don´t let it overwhelm trees or shrubs — consider letting it grow along the ground where you could use some additional summer cover.
Be sure you plant or encourage the native Virgin´s Bower (Clematis terriflora), the exotic fragrant vine that overruns many wild areas in (Western North Carolina). You can tell you have the native, not only by the lack of sickening sweet fragrance, but by its toothed leaves, the invasive´s leaves have smooth edges.
My Personal Favorite Fall Flower: Iron Weed
I had to include a photo of this beautiful, wild fall flower, seen all along our roadsides and fields and waste places in Western North Carolina. If you are zooming down a highway or secondary road, and a flash a brilliant purple catches your eye and makes you look back, chances are you´ve just passed a cluster of Ironweed. I don´t know if it can be grown successfully in a backyard garden, and I don´t know if it´s considered ¨invasive¨. But I have picked some, put the stems out to dry, and plan to try to get some Ironwood seeds started on the edge of my garden next spring. Note: I´m not a botanist, or a Master Gardener, so I can´t vouch for the harmlessness of Ironweed – so forewarned is forearmed…but I´m sure it´s not poisonous to the touch, like native Poison Ivy or Poison Oak.-
Source: Debbie Green has been a member of the Beautification Committee for over 10 years and maintains one of the committee´s sites in (Asheville). She is also a regular contributor to the Buncombe County Extension Master Gardener blog at buncombemastergardener.org and to the Black Mountain News, where this column originally appeared.
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