Four Fab Plants for Fall

September 29, 2012 | By | Comments (13)
 Four Fab Plants for Fall

Fanny’s aster. How could you leave this behind? Photo by Steve Bender

Grumpy won’t put up with finicky plants. There are just too many easy and beautiful trees, shrubs, and flowers available to waste precious time on prissy, fussy ones. These four look great in fall and need about as much care as your sidewalk. 

First one up — Fanny’s aster (shown above). A superior selection of our native aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius, recently changed by bored taxonomists to Symphytotrichum oblonglifolius), ‘Fanny’ grows into a dense mound about 3 feet tall and wide. Hundreds of rich purple, daisy-shaped blooms smother this tough perennial in October and November. Give it sun and well-drained soil. Crushed leaves emit a lemony scent and butterflies love the flowers. Sources: local garden centers and Niche Gardens.

'Fireworks' goldenrod

Fireworks’ goldenrod makes Grumpy drool, not sneeze. Photo by Steve Bender.

Show of hands. How many of you out there think goldenrod causes hay fever? If you raised your hand, we’ll excuse you to the next room now, so you may flog yourself in private. GOLDENROD DOES NOT CAUSE HAY FEVER! Ragweed does.

Lots of goldenrods are native to the South. Some are invasive, but here’s one that’s not — ‘Fireworks’ rough-leaf goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’). It forms a non-spreading clump about 3 feet tall and wide. Sprays of bright-yellow blooms explode atop the foliage in late summer and fall, attracting butterflies from all over. Combine it with blue and purple flowers, like Fanny’s aster and wild ageratum. Give it sun and well-drained soil. Sources — local garden centers and Sunlight Gardens.

Neon showy sedum

Wear protective eyewear when ‘Neon’ showy sedum blooms! Photo by Steve Bender.

If you have trouble sleeping at night, don’t plant ‘Neon’ showy sedum (Sedum spectabile ‘Neon’) beneath your bedroom window! The unearthly bubblegum-pink glow from the blooms atop this succulent perennial in late summer and fall will burn right through your eyelids.

‘Neon’ makes a clump of plump, gray-green leaves about 18 inches tall and wide. Do butterflies like it too? You bet. It’s great for containers or the front of  a mixed border. Give ‘Neon’ showy sedum lots of sun and well-drained soil. Forget about ever watering. It doesn’t need it. Sources: local garden centers and Plant Delights.

Chinese elm

Chinese elm — Grumpy’s #1 medium-size shade & street tree. Photo by Steve Bender.

Most shade trees that grow fast are horrible candidates for the average home garden. (Think silver maple, willows, mulberry, mimosa, sycamore, and poplars.) They’re messy, buggy, weedy, weak-wooded, and have shallow roots that invade water lines and lift up pavement. Not Chinese elm (Ulmus parviflora), especially a superior selection named ‘Allee’ (pronounced al-lay).

‘Allee’ is one of the most popular shade and street trees in the South right now. Vase-shaped and spreading, it quickly grows to about 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It tolerates heat, drought, and air pollution; suffers from no serious pests; makes a good lawn or patio tree; and is good for planting between the sidewalk and curb. Its small leaves turn light yellow in fall, After they drop, you’ll admire the flaking winter bark that shows speckles of orange, brown, green, and gray. Sources — local garden centers.


  1. Steve Bender

    Sorry I’ve taken so long to answer, but I’ve been on vacation. Trim Nellie Stevens if you need to. It accepts pruning very well. You can trim almost anytime.

    Not noticed any problem in the South.

    October 29, 2012 at 4:47 am
  2. Mark Colburn

    yeah right! chinese elm reseeds worse than a norway maple. Mark from western NY

    October 25, 2012 at 10:37 am
  3. Diana

    Steve, I need to know If we should trim a large Nellie Stevens Holly tree and how it should it be shaped. ? I’m unsure if it is good to trim it, please reply soon before the trimmer comes. Thank you. I live in zone 6. Diana

    October 13, 2012 at 10:59 am
  4. UrsulaV

    “Fireworks” is one of the few plants I’ve got that’ll grow gangbusters at the base of a big pine tree. The asters are rather prone to gerrymandering, but still some of the best I’ve grown.

    October 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm
  5. mike koch

    I enjoy gardening and floral..very interesting articles.thank you…would enjoy meeting you and working with you. Mike

    October 7, 2012 at 9:49 pm
  6. Steve Bender

    I certainly wouldn’t prune it now while it’s blooming and looking so pretty. Wait until winter or early spring.

    October 5, 2012 at 10:53 am
  7. Jo Love

    I live just north of Houston in New Caney, TX. I have a 6 ft by 4 ft. esperanza that is beautiful right. A garden club member of the club I belong to told me to cut it down to about 3 ft because it only blooms on new wood. Is this true and if so should I trim it now?

    October 4, 2012 at 4:20 pm
  8. Grumpy

    There really isn’t much you can do at this point, because even if you rid your yard of whiteflies, they can fly over from your neighbors. What I would do now is throw away in the trash (don’t compost) any plants that are severely infested. Next year, keep a close watch. Check the undersides of the leaves. As soon as you spot whiteflies, spray the foliage and stems according to label directions with neem oil. You can get this at garden centers. Be sure to wet the leaf undersides.

    October 4, 2012 at 9:37 am
  9. Betsy Baker

    My whole entire garden has been invaded by white flies. What can I do to insure they aren’t back next year???

    October 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm
  10. Steve Bender

    These are called suckers. They are probably growing from the rootstock of the tree, which is a different kind of cherry from the flowering part. Cut them off. If you don’t, they may take over the tree, giving you an inferior show.

    October 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm
  11. Rosemary Webb

    I have a Japanese Cherry Blossom tree and it has 2 long shoots growing up from the bottom. Will it hurt the tree to cut these off? they make the tree look bad because they are taller than the main part of the tree.

    September 30, 2012 at 4:14 pm
  12. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Sorry about your maple, but can’t help wondering if the plant was guaranteed by the nursery. Nursery should replace a diseased plant that died in 5 days. Personally, I doubt it was disease. Maybe it dried out. If you want a different kind of Japanese maple, try ‘Crimson Queen.’ It’s a weeping, cutleaf type that showly grows to 6 feet tall.

    September 30, 2012 at 6:36 am
  13. Paula Ahart

    Do you have a suggestion for a smaller “specimen” type tree for a large bed in Zone 6?

    Planted an Autumn Moon Japanese Maple, but it died in 5 days. Nursery said it was diseased and all his Autumn Moons died. A little gunshy about trying it again.
    It was the type of small type I was looking for.
    Smaller, wider, and showy.

    September 29, 2012 at 11:47 am

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