University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


FABULOUS FALL FOLIAGE PERENNIALS

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
Northern climates are noted for their brilliant displays of fall leaves, particularly of maples.  When many think of fall leaf colors they think of trees, and perhaps shrubs, but not perennials even though many provide fabulous fall colors in landscapes.
           
Keep in mind that the fall foliage display will vary among climates and years.  Mild, cloudy or rainy falls often result in rather dull colors other than yellow.  Cool and clear days often result in bright reds, oranges, and purples. Early frosts may stress leaves so that their developing colors, even if subsequent weather is fine, wont be as bright.  If your fall colors are often dull, consider plants with colored leaves all season that remain, and may intensify, with cooler fall temperatures.
           
For yellow to gold fall perennials consider bluestars (Amsonia), daylilies, coneflowers (Echinacea), Siberian iris, and upright sedums.  While these are best in sun, for yellow in shade you may plant Solomon's seals (Polygonatum) and many ferns.
           
Many ornamental grasses provide yellow or gold leaves in fall.  These include selections of the moor grass (Molinia), Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis), and some bluish switchgrasses such as 'Cloud Nine' or 'Northwind' that turn gold in fall.  Less hardy (USDA zone 5) for gold are fountain grasses (Pennisetum alopecuroides) such as 'Cassian' and 'Hameln'.
           
For red fall perennials in sunny sites consider some geraniums such as 'Brookside' and 'Rozanne', some sedum such as 'Dragon's Blood', Bowman's roots (Gillenia), some euphorbias including the new 'Bonfire', and even some peonies.  Some of the brightest red fall leaves are on leadwort (Ceratostigma), marginally hardy (USDA zone 5) in the north. Bergenias, foamflowers, and foamy bells (Heucherella) provide some red leaf color in shade gardens.
           
Ornamental grasses with reddish fall leaves include the marginally hardy (USDA zone 5) Japanese blood grass (Imperata) and some of the switchgrasses (Panicum) such as 'Rotstrahlbush', 'Shenandoah', and the new 'Ruby Ribbons' from the University of Connecticut.  Flame grass (Miscanthus purpurascens) turns tones of red and burgundy in sun, softer pinks and peach colors in part shade.  The less hardy (USDA zone 5) Japanese Hakone grass (Hakonechloa) provides great yellow with thin green stripes during the growing season, turning reddish in the fall. For a similar grass effect don't ignore annual purple millets such as 'Purple Majesty' or 'Purple Baron', or 'Rubrum'-- the tender  perennial purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum).
           
Purple leaves make good combinations with those that turn red or yellow.  Sun perennials with purple leaves include several sedum such as 'Purple Emperor' and 'Postman's Pride', black snakeroots such as 'Hillside Black Beauty' or 'Brunette', and the many dark-leaved coralbells (Heuchera). 
           
Don't forget to consider backgrounds and partners for fall foliage. A white fence, light-colored wall, or silver foliage provides a nice contrast to reds and purples.  Perennials with silvery leaves include artemisias and lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina).  A rich green background, such as from evergreens or even a dark fence, sets off light colors and yellows.  Hellebores, Japanese pachysandra, and gingers (Asarum) partner well under and around taller yellows. 
 

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles uvmext logo