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Gardening: Fall blooms bring final splash of color, insect food

Sedum Autumn Joy not only turns a beautiful shade of dusty rose in the fall garden, its flowers also provide bees with a last source of pollen and nectar before winter closes in. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)
Sedum Autumn Joy not only turns a beautiful shade of dusty rose in the fall garden, its flowers also provide bees with a last source of pollen and nectar before winter closes in. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)

With the arrival of cooler weather, many plants will begin to wind down and start to go dormant. There are a few that are only beginning their peak bloom and will give the garden one more flush of color before the weather gets too cold for anything.

Fall is synonymous with blooming asters. Their daisy-shaped flowers are adding shades of pink, purple blue and white to the garden and giving the bees a chance to collect a little bit more pollen and nectar. Asters come in many heights from the bluish colored New York cultivars that get about a foot tall to the 4-foot-tall, dark purple New England cultivars that will bloom for several weeks. All are native to North America.

Apart from the wood aster, they need full sun to bloom freely. They prefer a well-drained soil with a consistent supply of water and a light application of compost or organic fertilizer in the early spring. They are hardy to USDA Zone 4. In my garden, they are not deer resistant.

Golden rod or Solidago is native to the Midwest and New England where it turns meadows and open forests a brilliant yellow in the early fall. It is sometimes mistaken for ragweed as the plants and their flowers look similar to the casual observer. Golden rod is another bee magnet. My plants are covered with several kinds of honey and native bees this time of year.

The plant needs steady moisture through the summer to do well but isn’t picky about its soil conditions. There are several common cultivars that grow between 18 inches and 3 feet tall. Clumps can be divided in the early spring to expand your plantings. The plant is hardy to USDA Zone 4 and is deer resistant.

During the early part of the growing season, Autumn Joy sedum is a striking pale green succulent that can grow up to 2 feet tall. Its bold, strong structure adds a lot of texture to a garden. In the fall however, its flat flowers turn a soft rose color which lights up the garden especially when the low, late afternoon sun hits it.

It is a succulent so it can handle dry conditions but needs a well-drained soil to avoid root rot over the winter. Its flat flowers make a perfect landing pad for bees and other insects gathering nectar and pollen. It needs full sun and is hardy to Zone 4. Some deer like to nibble on it, others don’t.

Lastly Caryopteris or bluebeard is putting on a show right now of cornflower blue flowers held at the ends of wispy blue-green foliage. The shrub can grow to 3 feet tall and wide which makes it perfect for those smaller garden places. It is drought tolerant, does well in well-drained soil and can tolerate light shade. Again, it draws in bees and other insects looking for food. As it blooms on new wood, it can be cut back hard in the early spring. Its aromatic leaves deter deer.


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