Published on 08/23/07

Great companion plants splash color in fall garden

By Bodie Pennisi
University of Georgia

As the summer wanes, so do most of the plants in the garden. Whether you're looking at a foot-wide container or 100 square feet of landscape bed, your thoughts turn to the yellows, oranges and reds of a typical autumn garden.

Mums are plentiful at the garden center at this time, and they're terrific old standbys. They've certainly brightened many a fall garden.

But mums aren't the only word in fall gardens and landscapes. Here are some other wonderful plants that can add splashes of color to your fall:

Asters (Aster spp.) are autumn-flowering, old-time favorites with blooms ranging from pale pink to deep purple. They're in the same family as garden mums, so the blooms are similar. Unlike mums, however, asters are dependable and easy-to-care-for perennials.

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are reliable and often quite spectacular perennials. They start flowering in midsummer and keep going well into fall.

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) flowers in late summer and can keep blooming until frost. With silver-gray foliage, the plants can easily reach 3 feet or more in height. They're topped by spectacular spikes of violet-purple and white.

Goldenrod (Solidago) is a reliable, drought-tolerant perennial flower, and many species are native to the Southeast. Lemon-yellow to butter-yellow, nectar-bearing blooms appear in summer to fall on plants 2 to 5 feet tall (depending on the species and cultivar).

Sedum (Sedum spp.) species are drought-tolerant, fleshy plants with a wide range of habits, leaf shapes and colors. Many varieties bloom from late summer through fall in rich, deep pinks and magentas.

Purple heart (Setcreasea pallida) has a spreading growth habit with deep purple foliage reaching about 1 foot tall. It has small, pink flowers. This drought-tolerant plant has become a staple for tough-as-nails foliage color. Purple heart is a tender perennial, but it's hardy to zone 8. The top dies back at about 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but the roots are reportedly hardy to 15 degrees.

Cigar plant (Cuphea micropetala) has 2-inch-long, tubular flowers in shades of red-orange, yellow and green. The flowers begin appearing in midsummer, and the plant is in full bloom in late summer to fall. It's hardy to zone 8. As with purple heart, the top dies back at about 25 degrees, but the roots are said to be hardy down to 15.

(Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension floriculturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.