A Handful of Late Blooming Fall Native Plants
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
I love profiling native plants but have a growing list of other topics I also want to write about and feel like I’m always running behind. To give some timely attention to native plants before our first frost paints the landscape brown until spring, I’ve made a short list of easy-care and worthwhile late fall bloomers. If you’re in Atlanta there is still time to add them for next year’s fall pollinators.
Blue mist flower or wild ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum) is such an essential fall native plant that it has free reign in my yard. The long blooming vibrant blue violet flowered drifts attract all the butterflies as well as fall pollinators. This assertive native grows naturally along stream banks and wetlands but will thrive anywhere you let it grow. Anywhere. This is a perfect plant to let loose in a rewilded pocket prairie or naturalized area. It spreads quickly so this is not the best plant for a more structured garden. The more rewilded my yard becomes that less I worry about it taking over in any way because there are so many other plants it must compete with. It can easily be found at native plant nurseries here in Atlanta. Like many native plants, once you have one plant that is happy in your yard, you’ll have plenty more…which with native plants is a good thing!
Chipola River daisy or tickseed, also known as fringe-leaf tickseed or floodplain tickseed, (coreopsis integrifolia) is a hardy mainstay of my late fall yard. It is listed as critically imperiled in the coastal areas of the Southeast states where it grows. There are less than a handful of populations in Georgia. It is named for the Chipola River in the Florida panhandle. Without knowing it was rare, I bought one plant at a native plant sale a few years ago and it has since slowly naturalized in multiple areas of my yard. I’ve also been able to easily divide it in the early spring. True to its name, Chipola river daisy needs some moisture and sun. It has died out or suffered in dry areas. I wish I knew of resources for this plant because it is a gem. I'll continue to share it with friends who are rewilding their yard or restoring local parks. This seems like a plant that could become more popular and appreciated if it was planted in more restoration areas. Maybe it would also rebound if native plant resources made it more available to people who are restoring nature in their own yard.
Climbing aster (Ampelaster carolinianus) is one of the very last flowers to bloom in the fall. It prefers moist, sunny areas but is not fussy if it gets some sun. I’ve had success growing climbing aster in dry slightly shady or full sun areas. It grows more like a 10-foot shrub-like vine with sideways sprawling branches. Climbing aster doesn't twine and needs to lean on something as it grows. It would make a great option to weave through a fence, trellis, or even other shrubs. My yard is small, so I cut the previous year’s growth back by 1/3 in the early spring to keep it in check. It has not been difficult to find climbing aster at local native plant sales and nurseries. Like all asters, once established it can easily be divided to put in other part of the yard or to share with others.
Other asters – A variety of asters will ensure a longer fall blooming season. They’re also a great background plant in a pocket prairie throughout the growing season until they burst into bloom. I even have a couple asters that bloom in early summer. Even though I try to label at least one of every kind of plant in my yard, my goal is to create dense plant communities so eventually it is a lost cause. At this point, asters are all over my yard, and I can positively identify only a few including the Georgia aster that I’ve already posted about and the climbing aster above. To complicate things, I planted asters I bought at traditional nurseries before I switched to native plants so a cultivar or two may still be lurking.
Obedient plant or false dragonhead (Physostegia) has such a bad reputation in the traditional gardening world because of its vigor that it is often called disobedient plant. In the plant communities of my rewilded yard I haven’t found it to be any more aggressive than other assertive plants it grows with, including blue mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) or goldenrod species. This is not the plant to put in a tidy garden area, but to add where it can quickly naturalize to cover as much ground as it wants. It would be perfect for a restoration project or a naturalized yard. Pollinators just love this long blooming plant from August until the first frost! One of my favorite activities is to watch bumblees pry open and climb into obedient plant flowers. It loves moist, sunny areas but will grow just about anywhere. If I don’t want a wandering plant to take over, I find it won't be as aggressive if I plant it in a less than ideal spot. For example, obedient plant is polite in the dry areas of my yard where I've even lost a few plants.
Blue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod (solidago caesia) is one of the few goldenrods that grows in dry shade. It has lovely 2-3-foot arching stems. It blooms for weeks starting in October and is just about done blooming now. Blue-stemmed goldenrod is also clumping, so it is well behaved and will not wander in a smaller area like the many assertive rhizomatous goldenrods that need more room to grow. It is also easily divided in the spring so you can share it and add plants to different parts of your yard.
Other goldenrods – According to the NWF goldenrods are the top larval plant in my zip code, hosting 92 butterflies and moths! I wrote about various goldenrods in multiple posts last winter. Despite a grand plan to reset this year to positively identify the 19 or so varieties of goldenrods in my yard, once again I can’t tell them all apart. Even my favorite plant identification app seems to get confused by all the goldenrod varieties. I will just strongly encourage anyone who wants a vibrant ecosystem in their yard to plant as many goldenrod varieties as they can get their hands on!