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Gardening & More: Add color to your fall garden with these plants

SEE THE TURTLE – You can have color and flowers in your garden during autumn with plants such as turtlehead. Gardening season isn’t over; you can plant them now! Photo from Lockwood’s Greenhouses.

BUFFALO — The calendar says autumn is here, but you can have flowers and color in your garden, right now.

The gardening season isn’t over. There is still time to plant and you can still buy beautiful, healthy plants.

Here are six suggestions for perennials, shrubs and trees that you can plant right now and that will look good, for many autumns to come. These suggestions come from Sally Cunningham, CNLP, a well-known gardening expert and consultant for Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark St., Hamburg.

Many of these plants are underused because gardeners don’t notice them in garden centers during the spring when the plants are less awe-inspiring. It isn’t until fall that these plants really get interesting.

Here are Cunningham’s suggestions for six great plants for your autumn landscape:

Turtlehead chelone

This perennial is commonly called turtlehead because the flower actually looks like the head of a turtle. Look closely at the photo; the flower on the right looks like a turtle with a pointed beak. I think the flower on the left looks like it has its mouth open and is sticking out its tongue.

Cunningham noted that giving the flower a gentle squeeze will make the turtle open its mouth.

“It has some charm for children,” she said.

Turtlehead chelone is a native plant, so it will grow well in our area. It gets about 3 feet tall and does spread, “but it’s not piggish about it,” Cunningham said.

It takes full sun to partial shade.

“While the books say it likes moisture, occasional watering got it through this dry summer,” Cunningham said.

New variety of Joe-Pye weed: variegated

There are hundreds of species of eupatorium or Joe-Pye weed, and about a half dozen are grown commercially, Cunningham said. Now a new, variegated specimen is available.

“It gets darling, pink flowers,” Cunningham said. With the variegated leaves, “It’s pretty, even before it flowers.”

All varieties of Joe-Pye weed attract butterflies, and this one is no exception. Butterflies just love it, Cunningham said.

The variegated Joe-Pye weed can be grown in sun to part shade. It is a native plant.

“It benefits from moisture,” Cunningham said, “but it does seem to survive, even if it’s dry.”

Callicarpa (beauty berry)

In June, this might look like a plain green plant, but this shrub is spectacular right now, according to Cunningham. The berries have just turned an unbelievably bright pinkish purple; some would say magenta.

This shrub displays a neat vase shape.

“It’s always tidy looking,” she said.

Beauty berry gets 3 or 4 feet tall and has small, attractive leaves. It grows well, even in clay soil, and prefers sun or light shade.

Bonus: It’s deer resistant.

Lespedeza (a pea shrub)

Lespedeza puts on a stunning show, with hot pink flowers covering all the stems from mid-September and going throughout autumn.

It has a beautiful weeping, fountain shape. Because of its shape, it needs more room than you might suspect, Cunningham said. Make sure you give it 4 – 5 feet in width, so it has enough room to show off its graceful shape.

Lespedeza dies back to the ground, similar to a butterfly bush, and Cunningham recommended cutting it back in late winter or spring.

An interesting thing about lespedeza is that it is actually a legume, in the pea family, and has nitrogen-fixing properties. Some plants, such as peas, take oxygen from the air and leave it in the soil, Cunningham explained, which makes the surrounding soil richer. This can be beneficial for smaller perennials or bulbs that you plant around it.

This is another deer resistant plant.

Heptacodium (seven sons tree)

Heptacodium isn’t well known because this tree has been around just since 1993, Cunningham said.

“Right now it has white flowers, and they’re fragrant! It’s unusual to find a tree in our area that flowers at this time of year,” she pointed out. “Most our trees do their flowering in spring. Soon, the flowers will be surrounded by red bracts.”

A bract is a small leaf growing at the base of a flower.

The bark is attractive too, somewhat shaggy and striped, as the tree matures.

The seven sons tree is small, growing to a height of 15 – 18 feet tall, and is a winner for a small yard, according to Cunningham. It has no insect or disease problems.

Tom Szulist, the Garlic Guy, will give a presentation at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30 at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark St., Hamburg.

The garlic expert will introduce presentation attendants to the possible health benefits of garlic and explain how to grow the pungent plant in your own backyard. The presentation is free.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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