August is that transition month that pairs summer’s heat with the promise of cozy sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes. It’s a forward-looking time, one that is best spent planning and preparing for an upcoming span of greater activity, thanks to fall’s cooler temperatures. It’s the perfect time to plant native perennials.
Planting perennials, shrubs and trees is one of those that activities that has really taken off in the fall months, in part due to the successful “Fall is for Planting” marketing campaign. Fall is actually for planting! Not only are we more active in the fall due to more agreeable weather, but the plants themselves are more actively engaged in the planting and growing process, too. Their roots and their shoots love the cooler weather! Planting in fall helps them build a strong foundation, one that will not only get them through the cold winter months but also will give them a great starting-off point once spring begins.
If we’re talking perennials, we’ll of course want to plant perennials that are either natives or “nativars,” cultivated varieties (a.k.a. unique genetic cultivar due to manual or natural breeding techniques) of native plants. That’s because natives are well-adjusted to the region’s growing conditions. What’s more, since they are adapted to the area, you can bet the pollinators will be grateful for the nutrition these fall-blooming varieties provide at a critical time of year. There are literally dozens of native perennials we in the eastern portion of the U.S. can plant in fall that will give us the “and” we’re all looking for: We can plant them for future enjoyment and we can enjoy their beauty now.
10 Native Perennials for the Northeast Through Midwest
Sometimes when you are faced with a seemingly daunting task—installing a native perennial garden counts as one!—you develop a brain freeze and promptly forget all the things you already know, such as plants that might help you complete your job. Or, maybe you’re just entering the native plant world. We’re here to help! Below are eight native perennials for your consideration as you plan your fall planting.
New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae): With “New England” right in its name, you can bet this aster is happily at home in the Northeast. Its flowers, in hues of light to vibrant pink and purple, bloom from late summer to fall, offering butterflies and other pollinators nutrition at a critical time of year. Growing to about 6 ft. tall, the New England aster pairs both naturally and aesthetically with goldenrods.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): Speaking of goldenrods, it’s nothing to sneeze at when used in the perennial garden! (By the way, goldenrod isn’t the culprit of your allergies! Goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be moved by wind, but not by busy bees!). Cultivated varieties, aka nativars of goldenrod are less vigorous than native species, but offer the same bright yellow flowers in the fall and a food source for pollinators before winter. It’s drought tolerance is a bonus.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): One of the two iconic native perennials in gardens throughout the country, purple coneflower’s purple, daisy-like flowers are reflexed, giving it a shuttlecock appearance. Known for its immune-boosting properties for us humans, it’s also a butterfly magnet and pollinator food source.
Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium spp.): An extraordinary native and somehow underused, Joe-Pye Weed functions as a tall, mauve-topped backdrop against which shorter perennials can shine. And the great feature is it blooms midsummer straight through fall.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): A great pop of orange color in late summer, butterfly weed is a tough plant that laughs at drought situations. It is also especially beloved by Monarch butterflies as they migrate southward in late summer. Look for Asclepias syriaca, aka Common Milkweed, to plant another species that is highly adaptable and great for pollinators.
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): The other iconic native perennial out there, Rudbeckias add pops of color to any garden. Golden ray flowers surround darker disc flowers which form a cone. This species has plenty of cultivated varieties to choose from. Bonus! Most of them are prolific at self seeding in the garden. While these seedling babies won’t be true to the parent plant, they are free plants and can be easily removed if they risk overcrowding a garden bed.
Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.): The sunny, daisy-like yellow and orange blooms of tickseeds sparkle like floating gems in a perennial garden. What’s to love about tickseeds, other than their pops of color, is its unfussiness for soil conditions. The poorer the soil, the better. Also, the individual plants don’t last long, yet it’s a robust self-seeder and will appear in your garden for years to come.
Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’): This could very well be the best and most reliably blooming garden phlox you could add to your full sun to light shade garden. The Perennial Plant Association thinks so, and that’s why it’s been chosen as their Perennial Plant of the Year for 2024. Drought tolerant once it’s established and a magnet for swallowtail butterflies, skippers, hummingbirds and sphinx moths, the disease-resistant P. paniculata ‘Jeana’ was the only phlox given a perfect rating in The Mt. Cuba Center’s recent phlox trials.
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum sp.): Blooming in late summer through early fall with white blooms and the softest of green-colored bracts, mountain mints are abuzz with pollinators. It grows to about 3 ft. tall in full-sun to part-shade locations. Mountain mint can be a bit aggressive, but the perk is you smell its amazing spearmint fragrance as you whack it back into its border planting.
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): As fall fanatics know, not all fall color comes from flowers. Switchgrass’s typically blue-green leaves turn to yellow in fall, highlighting the airy and plume-like flowers and see heads that emerge in late summer. A number of vertebrates, birds, moths and butterflies uses its leaves and seeds as nesting materials, shelter and food. Added bonus: Its feathery plumes blowing in the breeze adds visual interest in the fall and winter garden.
Mail order company Izel Native Plants has a tremendous library of native plants on their website, www.IzelPlants.com. Their database is searchable by state. If you are wondering what plants are native to your area, that site is a wonderful resource.
Fall Perennial Planting Tips
Ensure your perennials have the best chance to establish themselves before winter arrives by following these planting tips:
- Follow siting recommendations found on your plant’s tag. This includes soil type, sunlight and drainage.
- Enrich your soil with our Planting Mix Compost Blend. This all-organic, OMRI-Listed product is a combination of compost, pine bark, coir and worm castings. It helps retain moisture and adds vital organic matter around those roots, giving them the opportunity to literally root themselves into their new home before the ground freezes.
- Add in a well-balanced fertilizer as you mix the native soil and the Planting Mix Compost Blend.
- Water the plants thoroughly right after planting, and as needed (at least weekly if no rain) until cold weather comes to stay, approximately two weeks after the first frost.
- If planting near the end of fall, a layer of mulch around your newly planted perennials will insulate the root zone and extend the growing time, allowing the roots more time to establish themselves.
Before you know it, your newly planted natives will be peeking out of the soil’s surface in spring, ready to delight you for a full growing season.