By Brenda Bolton, Mobile Master Gardener |

Q: I need suggestions for more fall-blooming plants in my perennial garden, including some for birds, butterflies and hummingbirds.

A: Despite the heat of August, the promise of fall shimmers on the horizon. I love a fall garden of perennials, our reward for surviving summer. We often enjoy planting a bloom-filled spring garden, only to see it collapse just when the butterflies and hummers need it most.

The main cultural requirements for a successful perennial garden are sunlight, soil, sustenance and, beyond that, patience and timing. Our problem with seasonal perennials is that we want them when we see them performing around town. Because we want them then, the sellers stock them and the garden columnists write about them. So why is that a problem? Because perennials require timing and patience.

Perennials, unlike annuals, will not achieve peak performance when planted. They are not “plant today, enjoy tomorrow” plants. Patience. A perennial flower’s first season is about six months after its seed-starting time, or several months later than when they are transplanted, and they peak a year or more later. Timing.

Here we are in mid-August, so your best plan now is to prepare for cool-weather planting by enriching your soil with compost, and plant only those that you can find as large potted transplants to nurse along under brutal sunlight. Fill in other transplants in October and November in cool weather when winter rains are approaching. Early next spring, after last frost, start seeds for fall perennials that will have spring and summer to grow then join the transplants of this fall, and fill in new six-inch transplants of fall bloomers. By next fall, you will have a perennial show that will get better as it matures. Patience.

For fall perennial shrubs to give structure to the winter garden when your flowers are in hibernation, you can’t beat the coastal trinity: camellias, azaleas and hydrangeas. Fall-blooming camellia sasanquas start their show as early as September. By having different varieties, you can enjoy blooms through early spring. Encore azaleas display fall bloom, as well as varieties such as the Satsuki azalea, “v Astronaut,” that blooms spring and fall. Late summer panicle hydrangeas, big “Limelight” and dwarf Little Lime, bring late summer blooms that are held on the stem into fall, displaying subtle changes in petal color as they age.

Our beautiful native oakleaf hydrangeas hold on to their blooms in fall, when their tan petal color and fall-colored leaves blend with surrounding autumnal tones. You can plant these as mature potted plants now for instant gratification, or you can install smaller plants in more hospitable cool weather and wait until next fall to be rewarded. Planting now will require some nursing.

My favorite fall floral perennials include mid- to late-summer bloomers that march into fall: Texas star hibiscus, hibiscus coccineus; red firespike, odontonema strictum; late summer’s butterfly ginger, hedychium coronarium. Numerous varieties of sages/salvia give us a multitude of bloom colors and plant forms. Most bloom all summer and into fall — yellow forsythia sage, S. madrensis; indigo spires, S. farinacea; scarlet sage, S. coccinea; Mexican bush sage, S. leucantha; “Hot Lips” sage, S. microphylla, v Hot Lips; cigar plant, Cuphea ignea; Egyptian star flower, Pentas lanceolata. Plumbago, P. auriculata, presents sky-blue flowers borne on arching stems from summer until frost that laugh at our heat. Tickseed, coreopsis, C. grandiflora and its other varieties produce sweet, daisy-like blooms; stately Joe-pye weed, Eupatorium purpureum; false sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides.

Most of these should be available at the Mobile Botanical Gardens’ MBG Pollinator Plant Sale coming up Saturday, Sept. 23, or MBG’s Fall Plant Sale, Oct. 20-22.

A great perennial vine is our native Lonicera sempervirens, v Alabama crimson. On a strong arbor or fence, it is gorgeous backing a perennial garden. Mine blooms heavily in spring and reblooms in fall, with some blooms all summer. Hummingbird heaven. Add a striking purple-berried native beautyberry shrub, Callicarpa americana, or native weeping yaupon’s red berries, ilex vomitoria v Pendula, or the beautiful red fall leaf color of Sweetspire, Itea virginica v “Henry’s Garnet,” for a good mix of blooms, berries, leaf color and evergreen with deciduous shrubs to enrich your autumn landscape.

Timing and patience this fall will yield bountiful fall blooms next year, providing pleasure in your garden for both you and the pollinators, which will gladly visit.


What: Mobile Master Gardeners Lunch & Learn
When: Monday, Aug. 21, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Straw Bale Gardening, Eric Schavey

What: Mobile Master Gardeners Monthly Meeting
When: Thursday, Sept. 7, 10:30 to 11:45 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Landscape Design, Rene Thompson

Master Gardener Helpline: 1-877-252-4769, or send your gardening questions to