Best Perennials and Bulbs to Plant In the Fall

Get A Head Start On Next Year’s Garden With These Gorgeous Plants

perennial flowers in the sunlight

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As the temperature drops and the leaves begin to change, the garden becomes a much more pleasant place than it is during the sweltering summer months. Seize the opportunity to enjoy the refreshing fall air by planting perennials to enjoy in the spring.

Planting your perennial garden so early may seem like a recipe for disaster, but there are many benefits to early planting, including stronger and healthier plants. Before planting, however, check to see where you fall on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Matching your plants to your climate is going to ensure you have a thriving, happy garden. 

If you’re considering starting a perennial garden this autumn, here are the 15 best perennials and bulbs to incorporate into your design. Don’t wait for winter--get started soon!

  • The Benefits of Planting Perennials
  • Why Should You Plant Perennials In Fall?
  • Stock Up On These Perennials and Bulbs

The Benefits of Planting Perennials

Why You Should Be Including Perennials In Your Garden

a pink flower in closeup
Take advantage of these long lasting plants and give them a head start on growing.

Perennials are plants that live longer than two years--which technically includes trees. They typically bloom for one season, spring, summer, or autumn. The variation in blooming means you have the opportunity to stagger your garden so that you have three seasons filled with colorful flowers.

Perennials are hardy and much longer lasting than annuals and are a good investment for next year’s garden. When the first frost comes and they die back, many of these plants will retain enough foliage to create a cover for the soil that will help keep warmth and moisture in the ground. 

Deep root systems are also one of the benefits of perennials. Not only can they reach nutrients deeper in the soil, making for stronger and healthier plants, but the complicated root systems benefit the soil by keeping it aerated and allowing water to travel more easily to where it’s needed.

Because they’re longer lasting and are able to create strong root systems, perennials require much less maintenance than annuals. Whereas annuals need to be replanted every year after they die, perennials are quite happy with a little bit of pruning.

Why Should You Plant Perennials In Fall?

The Surprising Benefits to Early Planting

thistle flowers
Don’t wait for spring--April showers bring May flowers but only if they’re already in the ground.

Fall weather makes gardening much more enjoyable. Dropping temperatures precede a steady decline in insect populations, which is beneficial both for the gardener and the garden. Wearing proper gardening attire like long pants, boots, and gloves is much easier, and you might even catch a welcome respite from the glaring sun.

As great as fall is for gardeners, it’s ten times better for the gardens themselves. While the air temperature cools, the soil temperature remains nice and warm. This warmth supports the growth of the intricate, strong root systems your plants need to thrive in the springtime.

With all of fall and winter to grow, plants that begin growing in fall have much denser, deeper roots that come in handy when it comes time to blossom. They may also be less likely to succumb to disease.

In most places, autumn brings frequent showers perfect for the developing root systems of newly planted perennials and bulbs. But if you live in a drier zone, don’t worry! You can water your new plants without worrying about losing most of it to evaporation.

Despite the frequent rains of fall, plants see decreased instances of rot associated with waterborne disease and overwatering. Combined with the decrease in pests hungry for a garden fresh snack, your plant’s chances of survival are much better than those of a perennial newly planted in the spring.

Frost isn’t a big concern, either. If you’re planting grown perennials, a good frost may kill off the tops of the plants, but it’ll leave the roots alone. Root development will continue until the soil itself is frozen, which is generally weeks after the first frost. 

The last (and perhaps most compelling) reason to plant your perennials and bulbs in the fall is to take advantage of fall discounts. Most gardening centers and nurseries heavily discount their perennials as they begin to pass their seasonal prime, heavily discounting plants so that they can empty their inventory before snow hits. 

When perusing the discount lanes, keep an eye out for plants that are a little wilted and yellowed--these plants are often the most discounted, and many gardeners steer clear of them. But if you have the time and the green thumb, these hardy little plants can still be brought back to life. But definitely avoid plants with no greenery, or ones that look diseased. 

Stock Up On These Perennials and Bulbs

Be Prepared to Plant This Fall

Allium

a purpllish allium flower
These firework blossoms come in many soft shades to gently brighten your garden. 

A spring blooming bulb, alliums are a great deer deterrent and work well when planted at the edge of a garden. In addition to their pest repellent properties, alliums are incredibly drought resistant, perfect for the gardener who frequently forgets watering day.

Alliums typically bloom in fall and retain their foliage even after dying back. This makes them great additions near more drought prone species, since they create a moisture retaining cover over the ground. 

Asters

purple asters with threadlike petals
Aster petals generally look thin and threadlike, creating a fringe of color around a bright yellow center. 

Coming in a variety of colors, asters are showy, star shaped flowers that add pops of color to any garden. White, pink, lavender, and even bright purple blossoms open in spring, summer, or fall depending on the specific variety.

The only downside to these plants is that they’re prone to mildew if left in deep shade. When planted in the sun, they should thrive.

Bearded Iris

purple folded iris blossom
These ruffled petals can provide you with color for months if the conditions are right. 

Bearded iris comes in a remarkable variety of colors--everything “except fire-engine red.” These plants grow from a thick root structure called a rhizome that is prone to rot if too much moisture is in the soil--to avoid this, forgo the mulch and plant in a sunny space.

With flowers from as early as March all the way to June, the bearded iris will provide your garden with many weeks of color. Thankfully, they’re incredibly easy to plant and care for, so these weeks of bloom won’t be taxing on the gardener. 

When cared for right, bearded iris will live for many years--every three to four years, make a habit of dividing the plants by breaking apart the rhizomes and replanting in order to boost your iris numbers for free.

Catmint

a bee perched on a catmint blossom
Bees will love the small trumpet shaped flowers on the thick stemmed catmint. 

Catmint draws many pollinators into your garden, and since their blooms peak between spring and summer they can help to fill the gap between seasons as you wait for your summer perennials to blossom. 

This fast growing plant can quickly grow out of control, so be prepared to do some cutting back through the year. Reaching heights of up to three feet, catmint can tower over smaller plants, so it’s good to keep an eye on it. 

Capable of withstanding harsh winters and poor soil conditions, catmint is a good plant for those unsure of what conditions their garden might be subjected to. 

Daffodils

white daffodils with yellow centers
Daffodils are a popular spring flower, but to achieve healthy flowers you have to get planting in the autumn.

Spring blooming bulbs like daffodils ensure that you have a garden infused with color as soon as warm weather hits. Daffodils come in a wide variety of colors and sizes, the most well-known being the fragrant golden blossoms called jonquils.

Most daffodil varieties are resistant to deer and rodents, so these brilliant blooms won’t be carried off as a tasty treat. 

Several varieties of daffodil, like the peruvian daffodil, have delicate bulbs that some gardeners dig up after their season is over to protect them from harsh winter cold. But many of these perennials can be left in the ground year round, making them low maintenance.

Ferns 

a fern frond held up to the light
Ferns are graceful, delicate additions to any garden. Experiment with using dried ferns as decoration as the weather turns colder.

Ferns are a great addition to gardens with lightly shady patches. Deer and disease resistant, ferns are easy to care for when planted in the right soil and sun conditions. Ranging from eight inches to six feet in height, ferns also provide layers of greenery, a perfect backdrop for bright garden plants.

With many types to choose from, selecting ferns can be overwhelming. Keep in mind how much space you’ll be covering, how tall you want your plants, and how much labor you want to put into caring for them. Most gardeners avoid sensitive ferns and ostrich ferns because of their demanding natures. 

Lamb’s Ear

a closeup of downy lamb's ear
Lamb’s ear is aptly named--the leaves are covered in a soft silvery down that makes touching them a delight.

Deer resistant and drought tolerant, the soft silvery leaves of lamb’s ear are the perfect backdrop for bolder plants. Accompanied by small white or purplish flowers, this perennial is best suited for full sun where it doesn’t risk encountering soggy soil conditions.

For those looking to fill their garden with lamb’s ear, letting the plant go to seed will ensure that it’s dispersed throughout the garden since this plant is a prodigious sower. To avoid this, simply cut back the pant before it releases seeds.

A popular variety of lamb’s ear is betony, a two foot tall purple flowered plant perfect for luring bees to the garden. You’ll find yourself and any small children lured by the enchantingly soft leaves of this perennial.

Pansies

a bright purple pansy
Pansies are popular in flower gardens and flower pots, loved for their splotches of color and broad petals.

Pansies are early blooming, typically flowering only during the spring although warmer climates may see them blooming in winter. Pansies are versatile, coming in a variety of shapes that make them well suited for garden beds or outdoor pots. 

Although extreme cold can kill, you can easily protect your pansies by covering them with a sheet of thick plastic or even a bed sheet when temperatures drop below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Coming in orange, yellow, purple, and black, pansies can make for an eclectic garden much different from the typical pastel spring spread. Experiment with different color groupings to see what works best for you. 

Phlox

white frilly plox
White phlox, with its dark green stems and elegant petals, makes for an attractive addition to springtime bouquets.

These fragrant red, purple, white, and orange blossoms attract birds and other pollinators to your garden and are long lasting once cut and put in water. Phlox plants are covered in delicate five petaled blossoms clustered thickly around a central stem, creating bursts of color around the garden.

Choosing which variety of phlox is best for you depends on which hardiness zone you live in, as well as your color and size preferences. 

Sedums

a bee sipping from a pink sedum
Bees will spend hours in your garden visiting each of the tiny, multicolored flowers that grow at the top of the sedum’s stems.

Sedums feature colorful foliage that ranges in shape from needle-like to broad, flat leaves. The rainbow of colors, including chartreuse, pink, and black, make it easy for you to find the perfect type of sedum to include in your garden.

In addition to appearing in a range of colors, the foliage of sedums are succulents that retain moisture, helping the plant withstand hot temperatures. This does make them prone to rot, so be sure that you plant these perennials in full sun.

The blossoms of this plant attract many pollinators, including our friends the bees. The blossoms will dry out in fall and winter, the dried stems remaining throughout winter and adding a bit of life and color to winter yards. For a late blooming variety, try the Autumn Charm sedum with its light pink clusters of flowers and broad, cream edged leaves.

For those looking for beautiful springtime gardens, the time to start is now! Take advantage of the great bargains and prices when you buy your bulbs and perennials in the fall.

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September 7, 2020
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