Although Southern born and raised, I have a deep love for fall weather of more northern states. This love comes from living in some of them as a young adult. Memories of crisp mornings, brilliant fall foliage and the accompanying smells of autumn taunt me as I write this article in late September. Potentially threatening Atlantic storms continue to swirl around bringing high humidity and rain showers. When I head outdoors, sweat pours down my face from temperatures still hitting the upper 80s and mosquitoes buzz around my ears as I bend over to pull weeds that have seemingly sprouted overnight in my Zone 9A garden.
Mother Nature is already boasting wildflowers that can be purchased and planted in the garden. Planting natives makes gardening easier since these plants listed below are perfectly suited for the coastal environment when you plant in the right location for sun and soil type. Yellow goldenrod (Solidago sp.) has prolific yellow flowers that attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators. It is often blamed for the itchy eyes, sneezing and runny noses of allergy sufferers but its heavy pollen cannot be carried too far by the wind. The real culprit is ragweed, with its inconspicuous flowers and light pollen carried long distances in the wind. Goldenrod is a tough plant that thrives in sunny locations and under poorer soil conditions. It has a reputation of being aggressive and if planted in just the right conditions, this can be a true statement but there are some species worthy of consideration and offered in the trade. Bred hybrids such as “Cloth of Gold,” “Crown of Rays” and “Little Lemon,” or species such as Rigid Goldenrod, Sweet Goldenrod, Showy Goldenrod and Seaside Goldenrod are good choices.
Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolia) has a broad native range from New York to Florida and across to Texas. It is found growing in the moist soils of the coastal plains, particularly along roadside ditches. This bright yellow branching sunflower produces multiple blooms and can reach 5-8 feet in height. It’s a favorite of songbirds and pollinators. It requires a place in the back of the garden and might require staking.
Purple Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is another perennial native from New Hampshire to Florida, growing in moist, fertile loamy soils in full sun to light shade. The narrow, lance-shaped leaves grow in whorls around an erect stem. The plant can vary in height from 2-6 feet. The flowering head is branched with pale purple flowers that offer up a light scent in the breeze. Purple Joe Pye Weed is a showstopper in bloom and a good pollinator attractant.
Hardy Ageratum or Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) has been a wonderful member of what we call “pass-along plants” for many years. This native butterfly attractant can also be found along old ditches. It thrives in sunny locations with moist, rich fertile soils. The bright violet-blue blooms appear from August through November. The plant can reach 2 feet in height.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a native member of the mildewed family. This month I’ve seen Monarch butterflies and Florida Fritillaries on the large, flat topped cluster of orange yellow flowers. I started my plants from seed. They grow very easily in coastal gardens, enough so that I find myself pulling a few out from areas where I don’t want them. Butterfly weed will grow in moist to dry soils and full sun.
Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is one of the most spectacular native grasses in the fall. The light airy pink blooms are striking above the mound of long narrow wiry leaves. As the colors fade, the plume heads persist. One year, a frost covered the remaining plumes. The frost made the landscape look magical! Muhly Grass grows along the rear dunes of the coastal beaches and has become extremely popular as a landscape ornamental for full sun and well-drained soils. Plants can spread to 3’ in width and with plumes, can reach 4 feet or more in height.