Great Perennials for Fantastic Fall Color

October 27, 2010 | By | Comments (10)

When people gush about fall foliage, they’re almost always gushing about trees and shrubs.

“Oooh, aren’t the maples gorgeous?”

“OMG, that burning bush is TDF!”

“Jeez, Louise, that ginkgo is a pinko!” (Which is both inaccurate and makes no sense. By rule, ginkgos cannot be members of the Communist Party.)

This is unfortunate, because it ignores a large class of plants that offer outstanding fall foliage every year.

Perennials. Most people grow them primarily for the flowers, but forget about colorful autumn leaves. Here are some of Grumpy’s favorites.

Hubricht’s bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii). That’s it, up top, in the lead photo. In Grumpy’s humble opinion, this is the number one perennial for fall color. Discovered in Arkansas in 1942 by Leslie Hubricht, this native forms a clump about 3 feet tall and wide. Sky blue, starshaped flowers crown the soft, needlelike foliage in spring. In fall, the leaves turn an exceptionally bright gold. Hubricht’s bluestar takes full to part sun and is very drought-tolerant once established. You can find it at better garden centers. Niche Gardens  is a good mail-order source.

Solomon's seal
Variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’), above, ranks right up there with hosta as the finest perennial for shade. (In fact, they look great planted together, so take the hint.) It grows from a rhizome that slowly spreads to form a colony and it easy to divide. Arching stems up to 20 inches high carry rich green leaves edged in white. Spring sees small, white, bell-shaped flowers suspended beneath the stems. In October, the leaves turn bright yellow and fade to tan. Give this plant rich, woodsy soil. I’ve found it to be surprisingly drought-tolerant once established. I got mine from a friend, Louise Wrinkle. You can order by mail from Plant Delights.

Many ornamental grasses develop dynamic fall foliage. Flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’), above, is one of them. I really think it has the showiest fall leaves of any grass, as they turn bright orange and red, before fading to orange-brown. Flame grass grows into an upright clump about 4 feet high. Its one drawback in the South is that it tends to be shorter-lived than other Miscanthus species. Other ornamental grasses with nice fall color — Chinese pennisetum (Pennisetum alopecuroides), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), moor grass (Molinia caerulea), and bluestem (Andropogon). Excellent mail-order source for these grasses — Santa Rosa Gardens.


What’s an extremely common shade perennial that almost nobody (except for the enlightened Grump) thinks about in terms of fall foliage? That would be hosta, shown above. Many of the approximately 12 million selections available to you turn a nice golden color in fall. No need to give mail-order sources. You can buy hostas just about everywhere.

This Year Your Vote Counts More Than Ever!

Faithful readers, the situation is dire. We teeter on the edge of a precipice. The stakes have never been higher. Now is not a time to laugh, smile, relax, drink a beer, go for a swim, ride a bike, or watch “The Daily Show.” Should you make the wrong choice, the potential for doom and disater hangs thicker than Andy Rooney’s eyebrows in the air.

Next week, the nation will vote. And I beg you, I implore you, I plead with you, I prostrate my ineffable brilliance before you — cast your vote wisely. Vote for the one candidate who has unfailingly taken a strong pro-gardening position and is prepared to propel America to the heights of 21st century horticulture.

Alaska 010

That would be me — the Grumpy Gardener. I am humbled by your support.



  1. Leo

    What is going on with SL magazine – I subscribe for the gardening section, but it just keeps shrinking – glad I found your page online. Why isn’t this stuff getting into the magazine? Wow.

    December 28, 2010 at 1:59 pm
  2. Pergola Makers

    Truth is, a (quite) big part of my garden has Hubricht’s bluestar. The colors are just awesome! Also, I’m thinking of growing some vines on my pergola for the holidays. This time of the year is just very good for indoor and outdoor decorating.
    Great post, anyway.

    November 30, 2010 at 12:21 am
  3. UrsulaV

    Delighted to see you mentioning Niche Gardens–I’m about twenty minutes away, and they are my all-time favorite nursery. So many awesome native plants!

    October 30, 2010 at 1:15 pm
  4. Henry H.

    “OMG, that burning bush is TDF!”
    Did you really just write that?!?!?!?!?!?! Steve, Steve, Steve!!!(shakin my head in disapproval……)

    October 29, 2010 at 4:40 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Grape hyacinths do great in Atlanta. They do not need pre-chilling and will come back forever and even spread. I love ’em.

    October 28, 2010 at 4:34 pm
  6. Suzy

    Hey – totally off subject, but such is life in the garden…….I want to plant some bulbs to accent my daffodil spread in the spring. I was thinking grape hyacinth (muscari)- but need to know if you think they would do ok in HOT-lanta… they need to be pre-chilled? will they even come back?

    October 28, 2010 at 10:40 am
  7. Dave

    I see you already have your secret service agent assigned. ;). Great plant choices, I’m a big fan of the ‘Shenandoah’ Switchgrass!

    October 27, 2010 at 11:17 pm
  8. Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings

    You are too funny. Smart to lead with Amsonia. I love it best of all the perennial showstoppers this time of year.~~Dee

    October 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Aunty Matter is once again a prisoner of self-prescribed phrmaceuticals.

    October 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm
  10. Aunty Matter

    I was blind, but now I see…..
    Indeed, my fellow Americans, I implore you,
    Vote for our Grumpy Greenthumbed Colbert, and
    Keep Fear Alive.
    Fear of the Marmorated Stinkbug.
    They just don’t die without a stink. Orange Pledge be damned!!!

    October 27, 2010 at 12:32 pm

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