October 10, 2014
Brown-eyed susans are favorite flowers in fall gardens. Photo by Mary Ann Tonnacliff
By Linda Yates
Fall has the last word when it comes to favorite flowers. In a final flourish of blooms, local gardeners find that the perennials that endured the dry heat of summer are on schedule without any special signal from the weather.
In Master Gardener Mary Ann Tonnacliff’s yard, brown-eyed susans (Rudbeckia triloba) are now nearly three-feet tall and have been blooming since July. They will bloom through October, and drop enough seeds to produce a new crop of the biennial next spring. Next to them she has cut-leaf coneflowers, appropriately named Golden Glow. This “golden oldie,” dating back to the Victorian era, also blooms from July to October. The perennial will emerge from dormancy next spring to repeat its seasonal display.
On a fence, a trellis and deck at my home, a sweet autumn clematis, a fragrant smelling vine that climbs anything within reach, spills a profusion of small white flowers. Known botanically as Clematis terniflora, the vine grows in the -30 degrees F of USDA Zone 4a down to Florida’s 25 degree F Zone 9b. Here it starts blooming in August and continues until mid-fall. Even without blooms, it can have as many as 30 feet of small green leaves that are useful in hiding an unsightly fence or shading an overhead structure.
My clematis pushed over the trellis with its weight. I cut it down to the ground in early summer. It rapidly grew back and again covers the eight-foot trellis with flowers and greenery. Needless to say, the vine will get a heavy pruning in late winter or early spring both to control it and to grow a fresh crop of leaves. Since it blooms on new growth, it’s best to get rid of the old vines.
When the last monarch butterfly migrates through Tallahassee and St. Marks on its way to overwinter in Mexico, one of its favorite flowers will probably still be blooming here. Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundiflora) started blooming in July, and dropped seeds to produce new plants that will bloom in fall. It is a nonstop annual that will grow five or six feet tall. Some have bright red-orange blossoms and others may be in shades of yellow and orange.
You don’t have a flower garden of your own? Then take a hike or walk across the fields and along wooded areas. In the fall, nature shows off some of her loveliest flowers. Golden rod, dog fennel, beauty berries, and other wild flowers seem to be everywhere.
Take a trip to the coast and follow a path behind the St. Marks lighthouse. Wild flowers on all sides are a visual delight. One of the first to attract attention is the saltbush or groundsel bush (Baccharis halimifolia). The cloud of white covering the bush looks like flowers but are silky white seed heads from the true flowers that opened this summer. The plant grows six feet tall or more and drops its leaves in winter. It grows wild in most of the southeastern states in disturbed soil and along roadsides wherever the sun shines.
Linda Yates is a Master Gardener volunteer with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Service. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov