This is an unusual time of the year. It’s too warm to be planting spring-flowering annuals like pansies and pinks. We’ll be talking about them later this fall. It’s too late to be planting most types of warm-season color because the first frost is only a month or two down the road.
However, I’ve noticed several plants that have looked really good in our travels about town these past few days, and I thought I’d share this odd collection with you.
These are plants that can offer hopes of bright colors in fall, in most cases from plantings made way back in the spring. Keep them in mind next year. They might serve you well. And remember that the only thing they share in common is that they all look good right now.
Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) is a tough old garden perennial that blooms late in the season. Depending on the variety you select, its flowers will be pink, violet or white, and they’ll be borne on upright stalks 24 to 30 inches tall in August and well into September. They blend well with fall asters and other late-flowering sources of color, and the plants themselves require very little special attention.
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Obedient plants do best in full sun. This plant is a favorite of honeybees. Oh, and it gets its name because the individual flowers can be positioned with your fingers. They stay in place — they are obedient. Even better than puppies and kindergartners!
Fanflower (Scaevola aemula) came into our marketplace from Australia some 30 years ago. It has some huge bonus features going for it. First, it’s dependable in our summer heat. And it’s blue. That’s the rarest of flower colors, and it’s really nice to find a blue flower that will stand up to the weather.
Fanflowers are good in patio pots and hanging baskets, or you can use them in flower-bed borders. The plants sprawl to 10 or 12 inches tall, but they spread to 24 inches wide. It does well in sun or part sun. Perhaps they have some insect or disease issues, but I’ve personally never seen them.
Cestrum ‘Orange Zest’ (Cestrum x hyb.) You’ll see both ‘Orange Zest’ and ‘Orange Peel,’ hybrids of two different species of cestrum. This is the rarest of the plants in this list, one you’ll see in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and a few home landscapes. It’s a Zone 8 perennial, which means that it is likely to freeze to the ground in really cold winter weather, but the plant I’ve been watching in a suburban neighborhood came steaming back in full bloom this spring, summer and fall.
Cestrum can grow much taller in warmer settings, but we can count on it to get 3 to 4 feet tall and wide in a growing season in North Texas. That means it probably needs to be used in the back of the perennial bed. It’s an interesting plant that you might want to try, and it still looks good in September.
Evergreen wisteria (Millettia reticulata) is another uncommon Zone 8 plant that needs to be used with the knowledge that extreme winters could kill it. It’s not the least bit related to our spring-flowering wisteria, but someone decided that the flowers looked a little bit similar. They are royal purple, and they’re produced in late August and September atop rather glossy evergreen foliage.
You’ll find evergreen wisteria in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, and you’ll see it occasionally around town. Just remember that incredibly dark, rich purple color. Few other plants are that regal. It grows well in partial shade where it can get morning sun and protection from midday on.
Profusion zinnias (Zinnia x. hyb.) are everywhere, and they deserve to be! These hybrids can be planted in the spring with the confidence that they’ll be performing their magic all the way up until frost. I drive by a gas station where they hacked out a bed back in May and planted these and a few other plants. Weeds overtook it all, and I don’t believe they watered more than one or two times. The profusion zinnias have outlasted all of the rest.
They come in a wide range of colors, including red, pink, bright yellow, white and orange. The ones in my photo (taken just a few days ago) are in a large commercial color bowl on a city street, and they were planted in May. Some of the other types of plants in there with them have started to fade, but the zinnias are still blooming to, well, profusion. Hats off to the breeders who brought us this Hall of Fame plant!