Late August-early September is a challenging time in the garden between the Hydrangeas of summer and the Asters of fall. For some areas of the country, it can mark the beginning of the transition into the dormant season. There are, however, certain plants that do peak during this time in the Chicago area. Many of these plants have added benefit of attracting bees and butterflies. Just like gardeners, these pollinators need a continual flower show too, as they are always searching for a source of nectar. Here are some plants that can fill the void at various places in the landscape:
O R N A M E N T A L T R E E S
Seven Sons Flower, Heptacodium miconioides, has fragrant white flowers in late summer that attract migrating butterflies. Striking red fruit appears in September. Its exfoliating light-colored bark offers winter interest as well. Full sun. 15′ h.
Sweetbay Magnolia, Magnolia virginiana, has very sweet, lemon-scented flowers that peak in June but continue sporadically throughout summer. It is semi-evergreen and a Southeastern U.S. native. A small tree that is well-suited to wet soil. Full sun to partial shade. 20′ h.
S H R U B S
Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, has large, colorful flowers that appear in late summer and continue until frost. Many cultivars are available which offer delicate blooms of white, pink, red, lavender or purple. Full sun to partial shade. 10′ h.
Shrub Rose, Rosa hybrids, are hardy performers which bear clusters of red, pink, yellow, or white flowers that peak in mid-summer. The Knockout series of shrub roses are the best re-bloomers, continuing to bloom until frost. Full sun. 3-4′ h.
Tardiva Hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’, is covered in late summer with bright white, pyramidal panicles up to 8” long. Flowers slowly fade to pink and can persist through winter. Sun to part shade. 8-10′ h.
Vitex ,Vitex agnus-castus, has upright stems that produce lavender spikes that resemble those of Butterfly Bush. It’s a shrub that is of the best bee and butterfly magnets. Full sun. 6-12′ h.
O R N A M E N T A L G R A S S E S
Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, has upright blue-green foliage that give rise to airy plumes of flowers in late summer. Great seasonal color continues into the fall from this Illinois native ornamental grass which is also offered in several cultivars. Full sun. 4′ h.
Sideoats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula, is native to Illinois and has copper-red flowers that hang along one side of its stems. Looks great in low sunlight. Full sun. 24″ h.
P E R E N N I A L S
Threadleaf Coreopsis, Coreopsis verticillata, has finely textured foliage covered with 1-2” soft yellow flowers from mid-summer until frost. Full sun. 18″ h.
Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, bears large, purple-magenta flowers that rise above the perennial garden in late summer. It’s great for attracting butterflies. Native to Illinois, available in many cultivars such as the tried-and-true ‘Magnus'(shown above). Full sun. 24-36″ h.
Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium maculatum, is a stately perennial topped with large purple-pink inflorescences in late summer that attract butterflies. An Illinois native that is also offered in several cultivars. Full sun. 6′ h.
Garden Phlox, Phlox paniculata, is a long-time garden favorite produces panicles of colorful flowers from summer to frost with deadheading. The lavender-pink phlox is native to Illinois; many garden phlox cultivars are available, which bear blue, purple, white, pink, orange or red flowers. Full sun. 36″ h.
Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis, has vivid red flowers in late summer that make it a showstopper in the garden. An Illinois native that thrives in wet soils. Full sun. 36″ h.
Continuous bloom can be achieved in the classical perennial border by combining these plants with earlier and later flowering species. Many of these plants, such as the ornamental grasses and the Sweetbay Magnolia, are valuable in the garden because of the multiple seasons of interest they provide. Would these plants fit into the bloom sequence in your garden?