7 Recommended Woody Perennial Plants Perfect for Your Fall Garden – Orange County Register
Cestrum orange Cestrum aurantiacum. (Photo by Joshua Siskin)
Autumn is the best time to plant and flower woody perennials.
Those that bloom in fall are among the most desirable garden selections and deserve special attention this season. Being woody, they generally survive without much water, even if they originate in areas where annual rainfall exceeds ours. Anyway, here’s a list of some of my favorite woody perennials that bloom around this time:
1. The cigar or firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea) is a hardy, highly flowering woody perennial. Its one-inch tubular flowers are orange and tinged with yellow. Hence its common name. They may bloom at any time of the year but they really shine in the fall. Its mass of cylindrical orange flowers with yellow tips glow brightly under the dark autumn sky. The leaves are diamond-shaped and shiny green. It grows slowly to a height and girth of three to four feet and only needs pruning to keep it within bounds occasionally. It blooms so profusely that the buds have been known to bend and flop under the weight of its flowers. Hummingbirds flock to it. Although they are drought tolerant once established, they will flower more abundantly when soaked once every two weeks in hot weather. Propagation is by shoot tip cuttings which is easily achieved in autumn or spring. The cigar plant grows well in full or partial sun.
2. Cestrum aurantiacum is a bold column of plant that can grow up to ten feet tall and is covered in tangerine-colored flowers at the end of summer. Cestrum elegans has wine-red flowers that can bloom at almost any time but are especially noticeable under gray November skies. The red inflorescences, each composed of more than 20 upward-facing tubes, explode at the shoot tips like a Fourth of July fireworks display. Finally, there is the night jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) whose countless flowers have no color but make up for this deficiency with an intoxicating scent that migrates at night.
3. There are several plants known as butterfly bush. Some have this name because they attract butterflies and others have flowers that resemble the butterflies themselves. Cassia bicapsularis is a butterfly bush in the latter category whose pale yellow flowers suggest lepidopteran creatures. There is some debate as to whether this is a shrub or a tree because it may grow from 5 to 25 feet tall, depending on conditions. I was about two feet tall when I brought him home from nursery exactly three years ago, and today he’s six feet tall. This is a treasure plant due to its abundance of flowers yet sparse growth habit, so you don’t need to do anything in terms of its care other than watching it grow.
4. Russian sage (Perovskia atripliciolia) is a hardy, versatile shrub covered in blue lavender flowers from summer to fall. It grows wide to five feet but can be cut back radically—since its thick buildup of inner stems may die and need to be cleaned—before new growth begins again in spring. Like many plants on this list, it makes a stunning hedge during its period of intense flowering.
5. Brilliant abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) is the unsung hero of the sunny to light partial shade garden. It blooms almost any time of the year with small tubular white flowers. Its glossy leaves are always a welcome sight, similar to those of the aforementioned cigar plant. Resist the temptation to prune its wayward stems that arch romantically in the air to a height of six feet or more. There are smaller cultivars of Abelia with pink flowers or variegated foliage but they are poor performers and cannot compete with the sturdiness or vigor of classic Abelia.
6. Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) is one of the most fragrant woody perennials. Its flowers have a scent that combines hints of licorice, anise, marzipan and vanilla. The flowers are purple and are born in clusters above the dark green foliage. It is native to Peru and is generally recommended for full sun exposure but in Southern California, except along the coast, it should be protected from the afternoon sun. Mature plants are about four feet tall.
7. Dwarf plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is a stunning choice for the fall garden. At this time of year, its true blue flowers — true blue is extremely rare among flowers — are on display, offset by the reddish-colored foliage. This could in all fairness be classified as a ground cover, yet its distinctive appearance is so striking that it easily gains the status of an independent choice, especially in a container. It is only about 1 foot tall but spreads several feet. When it starts to look disturbed, you can remove the deteriorating parts of the plant; When their stems touch the ground, they will be rooted and you can then leave these rooted parts in place or transplant them to other parts of the garden.
California Citizen of the WeekElymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’ is a variety of wild rye native to California that lends itself well to garden cultivation. They are very attractive when planted under two classic California native shrubs: manzanita (Arctostaphylus species) and California lilacs (Cynothus species), with their contrasting blue leaves. It also produces attractive 2-foot-tall blue flower stems that stand well in vase arrangements. It prevents erosion when grown on slopes and tolerates drought, although it tolerates irrigation. You’ll want to trim it every now and then to keep it compact and aesthetically pleasing.
If you have a woody, flowering perennial to recommend, please let me know by writing to email@example.com. Readers are encouraged to send me questions and comments about any plant or gardening practice. Suggestions for plant care and solutions to garden problems are always welcome, as are your landscape-oriented photos for possible publication.