When designing a new landscape or flowerbed, or adding to existing plantings, I always think of seasonal vignettes. Fall brings an opportunity for some of the showiest plant combinations, from beautiful blooms to striking fall foliage. It seems like purples and yellows or golds predominate, but nearly all our perennials bloom again in fall. Some of my favorites wait until the cooler temperatures and shorter days to show up. Great color combinations result from juxtaposing plants like Mexican bush sage and Mexican mint marigold or Goldsturm rudbeckia, and a drift of Gulf muhly grass with its delicate purple blooms can be a stunning scene. This time of year also brings us the copper canyon daisy display along with one of my favorites, the fall aster. The cow pen daisies show up in the woods around my house this season, along with the white mist flower, goldenrod, and evergreen sumac flowers.
It's butterfly migration season as well, and the Monarchs need the butterfly weed especially, but they also use the evergreen sumac, gregg's mist flower, white mist flower, lantana and verbena. All of our perennial salvias are showing off now, along with an unusual fall only bloom from pineapple sage and royal sage. These two should be used a lot more as they are showy, with red and coral/red flowers respectively. The pineapple sage is also edible, and the leaves truly taste like pineapples. The plant is pretty shade tolerant, too. The royal sage, also called mountain sage, is a woody shrub that will take sun or dappled shade, and is a reliable fall bloomer.
Texas has its share of fall foliage color, and some years are really spectacular. The showiest native for color has to be the Flame leaf sumac. This small tree is really fast growing and tops my list of "cheap thrill" plants, as it is inexpensive, grows like a weed, shows off like crazy, and may only live a few years. Actually, there are some really old ones in the hill country, and there are some in my neighborhood I've been watching for twenty years. An added benefit is that these are really drought resistant and get berries that feed the birds. Other great fall color trees are Black cherry, Red oak, Mexican plum, Black willow, Chinese Pistache, and Bigtooth maple. You also get great color from aromatic sumac and beauty berry, though these are shrubs. I always look forward to the magnificent berry display of the possum haw yaupon, which keeps its berries all winter but looses its leaves. Migrating birds get all the berries in late winter or early spring. Another tree that gets fall color is the Texas ash. A great shade tree, this ash is fast growing, long lived and very hardy, a much better choice than Arizona Ash. If you can find a Texas smoke tree, get one. This little tree has beautiful purple flowers which seem to form a haze over the tree (thus the name), and mine gets great fall color as well.
All our native grasses are blooming now, and they are a textural backdrop for shorter bloomers like lantanas, asters, salvias, etc. Don't forget about the chile petins which produce their colorful berries in fall, and which birds love. They are really hot little peppers! Look for Barbados cherries to bloom and berry now, and coralberry will be covered with purple berries all winter, sans leaves. With so many choices, we can have just as much interest in fall as in spring. For more great information, as well as plant photos, go to the websites growgreen.org and wildflower.org.