Ten Stunning Fall Plants

As the crisp autumn breeze ushers in a symphony of colors, our gardens and landscapes transform into vibrant canvases, showcasing the breathtaking beauty of fall foliage. Here’s a list of some of our favorite hardy plants (for Chicagoland area, USDA Zone 5) to add fall color and interest.

  1. Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ (Aromatic Aster) – This Illinois native aster is a welcome mass of color in the fall perennial garden. Erupting in billows of purple from mid-September to late-October, the flowers are a wonderful late season resource for foraging bees and insects. The shrub-like growth is green throughout the summer and provides attractive structure and mass until the real show begins in autumn.
  2. Amsonia hubrichtii (Narrowleaf Blue Star) – This wonderful perennial offers season-long interest from May to November. Starting in spring with soft blue flowers, the foliage grows up to 4 feet tall and wide and creates stunning masses of billowy texture when grouped together. In fall, the foliage turns a beautiful and welcome shade of bright yellow.
  3. Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta (Lesser Calamint) – If you are looking for a plant that blooms for an exceptionally long time, this plant may be just the one! While this incredibly aromatic perennial begins blooming in late June, it holds the flowers all the way until frost. With the onset of cooler temperatures, the white blooms often take on shades of soft lavender. This plant is a pollinator magnet, buzzing with activity all season long.
  4. Pycnanthemum muticum (Mountain Mint) – A tough and adaptable native member of the mint family, this plant does have an assertive presence in the garden. It will spread readily, but it is easily contained with some manual control throughout the season. The reward of the display is worth the effort, however, as masses of silver foliage offer beautiful contrast to companions with dark foliage and bright blooms from summer to frost. This plant is another bee magnet!
  5. Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ (Japanese Windflower) – While there are many varieties of Japanese windflower with pink, double, or bicolor flowers, this classic variety is one of our favorites. The clean, white blooms appear in late August over mounds of deep green foliage. The large flowers are a welcome difference from many of the shapes and textures seen in fall. This plant is adaptable to full sun and shaded areas as long as ample moisture is provided.
  6. Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago) – A groundcover with tons of potential! This plant emerges late in the season, but once it does, it offers season-long interest that differs from most other common groundcovers. Blooms of true blue appear sporadically during summer but in more profusion starting in mid to late August. As temperatures begin to fall, the green leaves take on hues of scarlet, maroon, and red. We often pair this plant with Sesleria autumnalis (Autumn Moor Grass) and Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
  7. Sporobolus heterolepis (Prairie Dropseed) – A native Illinois plant, this clumping grass is easy to care for in full sun and is drought tolerant when established. Fine-textured clumps look wonderful en masse with other perennials. In late summer, airy panicles appear 2-3 feet above the clumps and have a soft pink glow in early and evening sunlight. We love to pair this autumn texture with asters and seed heads from summer blooming plants.
  8. Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’ (Big Bluestem) – A native Illinois grass, big bluestem is the dominant grass of the tallgrass prairie. This cultivated variety offers increased ornamental value with stems that emerge with deep purple coloring in spring. The foliage changes to a blue-green in summer before reaching an almost black color in fall as temperatures drop. This grass makes quite the statement in any garden as it reaches sizes up to 6 feet tall. We like to use this variety in small groupings or as single plants in companion with Monarda (Beebalm), Solidago (Goldenrod), or Symphyotrichum ‘October Skies’.
  9. Diervilla rivularis ‘SMDNDRSF’ (Kodiak ® Black Bush Honeysuckle) – Quite different from invasive honeysuckle, this US native shrub is a favorite of ours for most any situation in the garden. Adaptable from full sun to full shade, the yellow flowers are loved by butterflies and bees during summer. The reason we love this shrub for fall is the stunning display it puts on beginning in October. While the Orange and Red varieties of the Kodiak ® series are perfect native substitutes for Burning Bush, the Black variety has a wonderful range of fall color in mixes of red, maroon, yellow, red, and purple.
  10. Symphoricarpos sp. ‘Sofie’ (Proud Berry ® Coralberry) – This compact shrub has small, easily-overlooked flowers in midsummer that eventually turn into a display that would be impossible to overlook come late August. The flowers give way to a heavy set of bright, clear pink berries held on long arching stems through late autumn. Early season foliage is an attractive cool, blue-green. The stems on these shrubs are stunning in the autumn garden but are also perfect to cut and bring inside for fall arrangements.