Move over mums, add fuel for migration

posted Sept. 1, 2017 2:12 p.m. (CDT)
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by / Bev Carney | Gardening Columnist

When colorful mums start popping up at garden centers and grocery stores, you know autumn is here.

While these mums certainly provide lovely splashes of color in the fading fall landscape, few varieties of mums provide nectar or pollen for the pollinators seeking sustenance for their long fall migration. Fortunately there are fall flowers that do offer fuel for the migration.

If you want to see hummingbirds, plant canna lilies. These yellow, red or orange flowers stand erect on big, bold leaves, often growing 6 feet tall. Some cannas have strikingly beautiful leaves, but in general, the canna leaves are plain, allowing the flowers to steal the show. Plant in spring for flowers from August through the fall frost. Cannas are tropical plants and if you want to preserve them for next season, they must be dug and stored over winter. This is actually easier than it sounds and is a job for the post-frost garden clean-up. Don’t let this keep you from planting cannas. There is really no rule that says you absolutely must preserve them each year. The best way to get started with cannas is to ask a friend or neighbor who is growing them. These remarkable plants produce multiple rhizomes each year and can easily be split and shared with friends. Purchased in pots, cannas can be quite pricey, but purchased as bulbs in the spring, you have a better selection at a much cheaper cost.

Verbena bonariensis is another fall favorite. Slow to get going in the spring garden, this tall verbena produces delicate clusters of purple flowers consistently until hard frost. Butterflies and hummers both adore these easy-to-grow perennials. Although not hardy in our area, verbena bonariensis is easy to start from seed in the spring and grow as an annual. Left alone in the garden, it will readily self-sow without becoming a pest.

Alongside the mums in the garden center, you may also find asters. For best performance, look for the shorter varieties such as the New England Aster Purple Dome or some of the cultivars of the New York Aster. These cheerful daisy-like flowers can provide many seasons of color for the garden while offering ample food for bees and butterflies, http://​​y6v3sbdj.

For a burst of deep yellow color, plant goldenrod. Once implicated in hay fever, these delightful plants have been fully exonerated and you can plant them without any worries about sneezing or allergies. In fact, its pollen is too heavy to drift with the wind and is carried only by the legs of visiting insects. Goldenrod is so pretty in the fall landscape that the Chicago Botanic Garden says, “Our native goldenrod, Solidago, is one of the golden glories of the field, prairie, oak woodlands, and even seaside.” Although goldenrod is known to be a tall plant, there are many cultivars that stay shorter, ranging from 2 to 3 feet. Easy to grow and drought resistant, goldenrod also attracts the bees and butterflies, http://​​ycbvqles.

Joe Pye Weed is rampant in this year's southern Wisconsin meadows. Favoring damp soil, our wet summer has spawned vast swaths of these tall stalks topped with large clumps of delicate pink to burgundy flowers. If you have a wet spot, you’ll be thrilled with these tall beauties.

Sedum is also a good choice for fall flowers. Our favorite, Autumn Joy, does tend to flop so be sure to prune it back in June for shorter stalks come fall.

Although it may be too late for these plants to be readily available this year, make a note in next year’s garden planner and enjoy delightful flowers until next year’s hard freeze.

Beverly Carney can be reached at

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