Ah, autumn…the season of apple cider and cozy sweaters. As temperatures cool and days shorten, it’s time to pick apples and enjoy fabulous fall colors. But maple trees aren’t the only brilliant displays for your landscape. Many perennials offer fantastic fall foliage, too!
Why Choose Perennials for Fall Foliage?
While most gardeners choose plants based on bloom power, adding perennials that offer a long season of interest is always a smart decision. As flowers fade, lovely leaves with pretty patterns, colors, and variegation create a garden filled with depth and texture, ensuring that your beds and borders continue to provide interest and enjoyment— even without flowers.
Some perennials, like Heuchera ‘Raspberry Ice’ with its stunning frosty silver and raspberry leaves, offer a great foliage display all year long. In fact, many perennials are known more for their fantastic foliage than their blooms, like Brunnera ‘Little Jack’, where the leaves shine even more than the flowers. However, along with perennials known primarily for their foliage, many beautiful blooming plants also produce foliage that changes color with the seasons. While most people look up for fall colors, these pretty, ever-evolving plants add fall interest along pathways, in mixed beds, and even in containers. Adding fall color at ground level creates extra autumn foliage enjoyment.
Perennials Picks for Great Fall Foliage
If you want to add endless interest to your garden, consider adding these plants to your landscape:
Crane’s Bill (Geranium)
For a perfect pairing of beautiful, long-lasting blooms and gorgeous foliage, perennial Crane’s Bill is a terrific choice. The star among hardy geraniums is, of course, the ever-popular Geranium Rozanne®. Large, 2-1/2 inch saucer-shaped, violet-blue flowers with white centers bloom from late spring until first frost. The mounded, slightly marbled, deep green foliage turns reddish brown in autumn, providing added interest to borders, beds, and containers. Rozanne works beautifully as a ground cover, paired with other perennials in mixed borders, or as a “spiller” in container gardens. The long-bloom period even in extremely hot summers—combined with the pretty autumn-hued foliage makes Rozanne an ideal choice for continuous garden interest.
Rozanne isn’t alone in the gorgeous fall foliage category: Geranium Blue Sunrise changes with the seasons, too. Nearly true-blue, 1-1/4 inch flowers with pale centers and delicate magenta venation rise above bright chartreuse foliage, which darkens and reddens in cool autumn nights. You’ll love the pop of brightness the chartreuse foliage adds to the garden during the spring and summer—and then marvel at its chameleon-like quality as the days cool.
If pink is your preference, you’ll adore Geranium ‘Blushing Turtle’. Beautiful soft pink, 1-inch flowers with intricate veins of bolder, more vivid pink appear from June through frost. The rich, maple-leaf foliage changes into autumn hues as temperatures dip, creating a pretty complement to the pink blooms.
For more pink perfection, try Geranium ‘Sylvia’s Surprise’. Vivid pink, 1-1/2 inch flowers with pale centers appear in early summer. While the plant blooms sporadically in intense summer heat, flowers flourish in early summer and again in late summer until frost. The green foliage forms spreading mounds, turning red in autumn—an excellent boost of color for fall gardens!
Many hardy geraniums offer excellent ongoing blooms along with pretty fall foliage, but some perennials start with an early show of flowers—then continue to star in the garden due to outstanding foliage color. Euphorbia ‘Frosted Flame’ provides lovely, multi-season interest. Charming chartreuse flowers emerge in spring. The foliage steals the show, though, with variegated leaves splashed with irregular cream, grey-green, and red markings. As temperatures cool, the foliage produces a red glow throughout winter and into early spring. These bushy, leafy plants add terrific color in the autumn garden.
If you’re looking to add fall color to a large area, try Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’. This popular weed-smothering groundcover blooms with bold spikes of deep rose-red flowers in spring, thriving in sun or partial shade. The glossy green spring and summer foliage becomes rich, ruby-bronze in late autumn, adding seasonal hues and continued interest to gardens.
For rich, dark purple foliage in the fall garden, try Polemonium Bressingham Purple. Like most Jacob’s Ladders, the foliage is highly decorative, neat, uniform, and symmetrical. However, Bressingham Purple lives up to its name, with royal purple foliage in spring and fall. (Summer foliage is mostly green, depending on light intensity.) Beautiful flowers of deep electric-blue appear in late spring/early summer, rising in elegant clusters on graceful, sturdy burgundy stems above the pretty foliage. You’ll love this perennial for all its attributes—pretty blooms, neat presentation, and great foliage!
While many flowers fade in autumn’s waning daylight, your garden can continue to produce terrific color and interest with the addition of fantastic fall foliage perennials. Add a few pumpkins and a scarecrow or two, and your garden is ready for fall!
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