Perennials for Fall Color

We usually think of fall color in terms of trees and shrubs. But there are many herbaceous plants that also offer good color in autumn. Here are a few in my garden right now.

Starry Solomon's Plume
Starry Solomon’s Plume

Starry Solomon’s Plume (Smilacina stellata) has long-lasting golden yellow foliage. Deep red berries add contrast, though most of the berries are eaten by grouse and other birds. This is a plant that adapts well to part shade and dry, sandy soil.

Penstemon 'Husker Red'
Penstemon ‘Husker Red’

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ has dark red foliage. I do need to find a better way to deadhead these plants, though, they are looking rather decapitated.

Asiatic Lilies
Asiatic Lilies

My Asiatic Lilies have yellow foliage – though they also have the decapitated look.

Brown Eyed Susan
Brown Eyed Susan

Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) foliage turns red and maroon. which combine nicely with the round seedheads and the last of the small yellow flowers.

Many hardy geraniums also have good fall color – though this year mine have been unwilling to surrender their chlorophyll to date. I have seen Prairie Baby’s Breath (Euphorbia corollata) with wonderful foliage, sadly I have none in my own garden.

And while we are on the subject of fall color, I have to insert a few pictures of grasses.


Northwind Switchgrass
‘Northwind’ Switchgrass

My ‘Northwind’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)  is still mostly green, but increasingly it is green striped with a golden tan. And the clouds of “flowers” are really enchanting.

Northern Sea Oats
Northern Sea Oats


northern sea oats

The dangling seeds of Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) are golden brown and fully ripe. Soon they will shatter and fall to earth, there to give rise to seedlings that can be a real pain in the ass. But they are beautiful anyway. The leaves have turned a nice yellow.

2013-11-03 17.49.25

‘Carousel’ Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) has now turned almost completely red. It shows up nicely against the still-flowering Calamint (Calamintha nepetoides). I like this new plant so much that I am going to give it two companions in the spring – it seems wrong just to have the one plant all by itself. I’ll have to find new homes for the Pennisetums currently in those spots.

What is your favorite flowering perennial for fall foliage color?

48 Comments on “Perennials for Fall Color

  1. Great post! Perhaps next year or the next I can add some perennials that will have some fall color. Right now, the perennials are either dead from the frost or unaffected and still looking like they did before. I do need to add more grasses, too. I only brought one with me to Missouri.

  2. I like the Carrousel Little Bluestem a lot! I had this plant for a few years but it didn’t turn a pretty red color. More of a brown/orange and was a bit invasive so I removed it. I might try it again though as I read great things about it. One of my favorite perennials for color is Hardy Geranium Johnson’s Blue and another is dwarf bell flower -platycodon. All foliage turns a glorious golden/yellow.

    • I love Johnson’s Blue, I have a lot of it! Though mine has not really shown much leaf color yet. Surprised that Little Bluestem was invasive as it is a clumper. Was it self-sowing really aggressively?

      • Well, yes, the clump was growing / expanding rapidly over a 3 year period and in a way that I didn’t know if I could get it out if I waited much longer. In other words, it was really cementing in. If it would have turned that pretty red color I would have liked it more.

  3. You’re right not to forget perennials when thinking of autumn colour, at the moment I have very little in the garden but soon the hemerocallus will turn vivid yellow for a few days.

    • You mean the Smilacina? Yes, I also have S. racemosa. It can be beautiful but is too floppy in my garden. The smaller S. stellata does better.

  4. Glad you posted about colour nearer the ground. My peony foliage was gorgeous until a rainstorm flattened them all! I also like the red tinge to the aquilegias and some of the geraniums.

    • My peony foliage is covered with downy mildew by August and I cut it to the ground. You’re right about the Aquiliegias, though, should have gotten a picture of that.

  5. Calamint will never need a plant partner, it visits all over the garden with its prolific seeding. Since your plant is new, just wait, there will be many, many more. I like the soft texture of it and have had it for many years. Your garden is filled with self seeders, so I guess that will never be a problem if it gets the wanderlust.

  6. Glad to see ‘Carousel’ is a winner…YAY for adding more next year…Little Bluestem is so much better in groups 🙂 I’m amazed at how much earlier our fall color seems to be compared to yours…my ‘Northwind’ is already starting to go tan!

    • The seasons have been odd this year. I know the one Carousel will expand but when you see it now it is immediately clear that three would look so much better.

  7. Jason! Husker Red has such excellent seed pods! Shame you decapitated them! The red of sundrops foliage is nice too, but I tend to cut them to the ground once the next year’s rosettes have formed.

  8. It’s nice to appreciate the colour that some perennials provide as they are dying back. Sadly in my garden the ones that were looking great were turned into a great pile of mush by the frosts this last couple of days. I’ve enjoyed seeing yours Jason.

  9. Oh, those grasses are lovely. I really am getting more and more into them. I’ve planted several new ones in the back so I’ll look forward to seeing how they get on. The seedlings do sprout everywhere as you say.xxxx

    • I found the sea oats and wild ryes to be the worst for self-sowing. The switchgrass and dropseeds don’t seem to self-sow much at all.

  10. Great examples of fall foliage that is worthy of our attention! I do the same thing with my Asiatic Lilies–I think I read somewhere that it’s healthy to leave the stems standing to support growth for the next year. Plus, their golden color definitely adds “November interest.”

    • I think it’s the same principle as with daffodils – leave the foliage and let it ripen so the plant can store energy in the bulb for the next year.

  11. Such wonderful plants on display in your garden Jason! I am a bit surprised by my new catmint “Montrose White” Still has it’s little white blooms and seems unfazed by the cold. Happy weekend to you!!!

  12. You have some excellent examples in your garden. My favorites are the grasses…Northern Sea Oats and Pink Muhly grass. When the light hits them on a cool morning they sparkle!

  13. I love the form and color of your Asiatic lilies! My favorites? The foliage of my Solomon’s Seal has been outstanding, and I love hosta leaves as they turn shades of gold.

  14. I just added a variegated calamintha to my container garden since I didn’t have a good spot in the garden beds. It’s always surprising and enjoyable to see the variety of foliage colors in the fall, especially in unexpected places such as perennials. With the exception of the bluestem and the switchgrass, I have all the same plants. 🙂

    • Huh, didn’t even know that there was a variegated calamintha. Are you not a big fan of grasses, or do you just like different grasses?

  15. Jason, I’m a big fan of Northern Sea Oats but have found them weak growers in my Northwest garden, but let me say well, helllllll-o Northwind Switchgrass. Now there’s a looker, I’ll investigate further–thanks!

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