It's asters, goldenrods, tickseeds and more!
There are a ton of mums out there in fall in all sorts of autumnal hues and sizes. There is a more budget and environmentally friendly choice though! It's asters and other fall blooming native plants. These grow superbly in containers and, once winter is imminent you can pop them out in your garden where you can enjoy them for years and years to come!
The asters in multiples at Mt. Cuba last year were stunning. A lone aster looked pretty good too. These are October Skies aromatic aster (Symphotrichum oblongifolium 'October Skies.') This low growing, bushy aster is perfect for containers as it is also drought tolerant.
Closer to home, in our garden, this Wood's Light Blue aster (Aster domosus 'Wood's Blue') spent the summer in this coir basket in a wire sphere. This is another shorter aster, growing to about a foot high. Earlier in summer, before blooming, it was the filler in the basket. Now it is the feature.
As I understand it, these cultivars of aster changed the growth habit of the plant, not the color of the flower or leaves. That's important if you are looking for plants to increase the ecological value of your garden. The current scientific thinking is cultivars of native plants are likely ok for feeding insects so long as the color of the foliage or flower is not changed. There are a significant number of cultivars of asters, many available now at garden centers and native nurseries. While I've mentioned a couple, I am sure there are many other more compact cultivars that would work well in containers.
Three more perennials that would be great in fall containers: goldenrod 'Little Lemon' (Solidago dansolitlem), blue hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and tickseed (Coreopsis palustris 'Summer Sunshine'). Goldenrod 'Little Lemon' grows 12 to 18" tall. These can be cut back after their first bloom to create a second bloom. Blue hyssop is extremely easy to grow in a container. It will get up to three feet tall so it's ideal for a larger container. Tickseeds also do well in fall containers. As with asters and goldenrods, there are many cultivars available. A straight species that is easy to find is whorled tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata.)
I planted this railing planter with a hybrid coreopsis 'Big Bang Mercury Rising' and straight species pink coreopsis (Coreopsis rosea), the smaller pink flower toward the back. They have bloomed most of summer and should continue well into fall. In August, cutting back the plants to 6", triggered this second flush of blooms two weeks later. Because the one cultivar changed the color of the coreopsis flower to red, the plant likely provides little ecological value. Using only the straight species coreopsis would be a better ecological choice.
I recently saw this container with native mountain mint (Pycnanthemum incanum) at Herring Run Nursery. What a great idea. The blooms on mountain mint are really small but, from afar, the flowers remain minty green and look like they are still blooming. This would be a great summer and fall container. Mountain mint is a fairly strong growing plant so it makes sense to plant it on its own in a container. For fall containers though, plants aren't really doing a lot of growing, so you could easily combine mountain mint with other perennials.
Heucheras also make great container plants and, if watered, last through fall. This is coral bells 'caramel' (Heuchera 'Caramel') one of the many, many heuchera cultivars. The straight species, American alumroot (Heuchera Americana) would be an even better choice ecologically. These will over winter in containers or can be planted out in your garden.
Here are a few more ideas for fall containers if you have not already seen them! You can read more about them here.
Nothing against those ornamental mums ... but there are so many more options! Do you have favorite combos? Please do share.