Perennials with fall foliage color

By Kathy Conner Cornell VCE Southside Master Gardener We know that trees and shrubs often provide bright leaf colors in the fall, one of the things that makes this season so special. But did you know that there are perennials that also give us a showy fall display. It is important to include perennials in our landscape beds because, once established, perennials do not require irrigation or much in the way of fertilizing. This saves you time and money replanting every spring.
This hardy Geranium foliage will turn red as the days continue to get cooler. There are species of this plant that like sun and shade so find one that works in your garden. Blue star, Amsonia hubrichtii and A. tabernaemontana, is a spring favorite. The blue flowers open in the spring and resemble, you guessed it, blue stars. The flowers last for a few weeks. After flowering the plant forms about a two foot green mound and later sports seedpods. In the fall the plant turns golden and is a treat to view. A tried and true garden perennial is Geranium, not to be confused with the annual geraniums, Pelargonium. The common name of the some of the hardy geraniums is cranesbill because of the shape of the fruit capsule. There are many species of geraniums out there plus a lot of hybrids to make things even more confusing. You need to do your homework since some of them like shade and others like full sun. Two robust hybrids are Brookside and Rozanne. These can take our summer heat. But regardless of which one(s) you choose for your garden, they share the trait of turning a reddish hue in the fall. Hakone grass, Hakonechloa, is an ornamental grass that primarily needs shade. It has its best color in dappled shade. However, Hakone grass has been marginal in our area until the arrival of the cultivar ‘All Gold’. During her Master Gardener College presentation “Garden Extroverts” Holly Scoggins makes mention of this cultivar praising it for being acceptable here In Virginia. Other cultivars were stunners in the Northwest so now we can enjoy the excitement. The lime green grass blades turn to pinkish-red in the fall and bronze in winter. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough shade to enjoy this beautiful ornamental grass. Allan Armitage states in “Herbaceous Perennial Plants” that plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, or leadwort is a great species at home in Athens. Georgia as well as Niagara. Ontario. He suggests some afternoon shade to give the plant a more open look. The blue flowers form in late summer to early fall, a real plus since not much else is blooming then. The foliage turns bronzy-red in the fall giving an additional splash of color to the garden. The Allegheny foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia, is native to the Eastern United States. It blooms white in the spring and has evergreen foliage. It likes shade in organic soils. Although it likes some moisture, having wet feet especially in the winter will cause its demise. There are many cultivars of this species offering a small range of flower color variation in foliage. However, most turn a bronze color in the fall. While we are all still practicing ‘social distancing’ due to COVID-19, and all Halifax County buildings remain closed to the public, if you have gardening questions, you can best reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to If you can’t email, you can call and leave a message at the Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at 434-830-3383, giving us your name, telephone number, and nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is checked timely and someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask and seek out some plants with fall foliage color.