Enjoy colorful, carefree flowers come fall if you plant these natives this summer.
It’s easy to get carried away in spring, when plant sales, garden centers, home-improvement stores and supermarkets are replete with floral temptations. Even those of us who know better are drawn to whatever is blooming at the time, predisposing our gardens toward summer flowers. This is a shame, because our hyper-focus on summer can blind us to autumn’s flower potential.
And what a potential we’re missing! A Colorado late-season flower garden is as good as it gets—autumn’s golden light enhanced by a backdrop of flowers and leaves attired in luminescent saffron, ochre, tangerine, claret, crimson and puce. Especially valuable are native flowers that can withstand frost, many of which will remain in bloom through October—if not demolished by a season-ending arctic blast. Adding a selection of these plants in summer ensures your garden will be every bit as enchanting in autumn as it was in spring and summer.
Daisies are a truly rough-and-tumble group that predominates in late autumn. Many daisies have been blooming nonstop since things heated up earlier in the summer season. The clear winner for bloom duration through any adversity a Colorado summer can throw at it is low and spreading prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora). My records find these yellow daisies blooming June 4 in the plains west of Pueblo, where it is native, and still going strong in mid-October at Kendrick Lake Park in Lakewood.
No lightweight either is the perky Sue daisy (Hymenoxys scaposa), a pretty little thing with grass-like foliage and golden-yellow daisies held 8 to 10 inches aloft on wiry stems. It starts blooming in late spring, indulges in a bit of summer siesta and jumps back into action by monsoonal rains in late summer.
Also blooming from spring to late autumn is Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia), again golden-yellow, but at 2 feet tall, this wildflower can be mixed in with grasses and meadow flowers without getting lost in the fray.
Fall-debuting Maximilian daisy (Helianthus maximiliani) tops out at 8 feet in height with spikes of yellow daisies as early as August but as late as October, depending on weather and selection. Of the several cultivars available, ‘Dakota Sunshine’ blooms in August, while pale-yellow ‘Matanzas Creek’ waits until the end of September into October.
With tiny yellow daisies arranged on fat 2- to 3-foot spikes, golden torch goldenrod (Solidago ‘Wichita Mountains’) is a late bloomer that may seed itself round the garden more than desired, making it a great choice for dry meadows.
Prairie Home Companions
Not all that glitters in autumn is gold. Lavender-purplish purple prairie ver-bena (Verbena [Glandularia] bipinnatifida), also from the Pueblo plains, is a great partner to prairie zinnia and other short companions. The screaming red-orange hummingbird trumpet (Zauschneria latifolia v. etteri) will attract wildlife and native bees. For a flower garden that doesn’t
get bone dry, add sky-blue prairie sage (Salvia azurea) and rosy pink, deliciously fragrant hummingbird mint, Agastache ‘Ava’.
All of these flowers are drought tolerant, but when planted in the heat of summer will benefit from vigilant watering whenever their root balls dry out, as well as a temporary mulch of pine needles or evergreen boughs. Treat them tenderly and you’ll have plenty of color when fall rolls around.