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Beyond Mums1 November 2013
Most of us recognize the burnished coppers and golds of mums and appreciate their updated pinks and purples, the bright daisy look-alikes, and the strong reds assembled in dazzling displays at the garden shop, farm stand, or hardware store. But fall highlights some unusual bloomers and performers in the garden. Consider adding color late in the season with some of these less common fall bloomers.
The hardy begonia (Begonia grandis) , adapted to zone 6-9, is a late bloomer, very slow to start growing in the spring and very late to flower. The pale pink or white blooms dance at the tips of billowy stems. These plants are worth growing if they are hardy where you live.
New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), adapted to zones 4 to 8, are always a welcome sight in the fall garden. Their bold shades of pink and purple, along with the starry white blooms of the wild wood aster (Eyrybia divaricata), adapted to zones 3 to 8, seem especially fresh and vibrant when they appear at the end of the season. If your perennial asters are too tall and lanky and flop over, try nipping them back once or twice in the spring to early summer to force them to branch and grow denser. They are also easy to increase by division in the spring. You can never have enough of these!
Another fall favorite is boltonia (Boltonia asteroides), adapted to zones 4 to 9. 'Snowbank' is an apt name for one of the available cultivars with its masses of small, star-shaped white flowers. Be prepared to allow it ample space since it can grow 4 feet tall and wide, and stake it to keep it from toppling in a wind or rain storm. There is also a smaller pink form, but it is a soft tentative pastel and a bit disappointing if you ordinarily prefer your pinks in the flamingo range.
If you appreciate quiet side of understatement, you will like toad lilies (Tricyrtis hirta), adapted to zones 4 to 8. Perfect in a shady spot, their ugly name is unwarranted. Their lily-shaped, purple speckled blossoms are unique and lovely. Place them in part to full shade and moist, well-drained soil.