KC Gardens

Three colorful perennials to brighten up your fall garden

Helenium “Salud Embers” can brighten up a fall garden.
Helenium “Salud Embers” can brighten up a fall garden. Johnson County K-State Research & Extension

Gardeners are continually searching for the latest and greatest plant recommendations. I am fortunate to be surrounded by knowledgeable and experienced Extension Master Gardener volunteers who share their tips with me. Our network of eight demonstration gardens lets me experiment with many plants.

As summer comes to a close, let me share a few perennial plants to consider adding to your garden. These plants are beginning to put on their show as the garden transitions from summer to fall. They are sure to captivate your attention.

Rudbeckia “Henry Eilers”: The flower is unique, as the sunshine yellow petals are not flat but have a rolled, tubular look. These cheery flowers with a brown center stand on upright stems reaching 3 to 5 feet. Reduce the height by cutting back the plant by one half in early spring. This results in stockier, sturdy stems.

“Henry Eilers” grows best in full sun. Like most plants, it prefers evenly moist soils but will tolerate a mild drought. Divide this plant’s slow-spreading clump every few years to keep its size in check. It makes an impressive focal point in the back of a bed for a pop of summer color.

Helenium: Its common name, Sneezeweed, may be the worst ever. Breeders have refined this old-fashioned plant in recent years. A couple of beautiful cultivars include “Salud Embers” and “Mardi Gras.” Prized for their brightly colored flowers, these varieties include a mix of yellow, orange, red and browns brightening the garden.

Helenium is also best grown in full sun with even moisture. Drought will decrease vigor and blooms. Like the Rudbeckia, the plant can be cut back by half in late May or June to reduce the height, as the plant can reach 3 feet or higher. Fertilization is not recommended as it can lead to taller, leggy plants that tend to flop. Divide every few years to keep the clump in check.

The vivid flowers attract pollinators like butterflies and bees. It is reported to be deer and rabbit resistant, even more of a reason to add Helenium to the garden.

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Solidago “Fireworks” explodes with bright, yellow flowers. Johnson County K-State Research & Extension

Solidago “Fireworks”: As the name implies, this perennial explodes with bright, yellow flowers heading into fall. Stiff plume branches loaded with the small, yellow flowers cover the plant like a firework bursting in air. “Fireworks” is loved for its unique flowering habit. Blooms provide a source of pollen for bees and butterflies.

Like the other perennials, the plant can reach 3 to4 feet in height. Cutting back retains a 3-foot height and develops a woody like stem to keep the plant upright. Full sun to light shade is best, as it tolerates dry to moist soils. The plant spreads by rhizomes, so divide as needed.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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Rudbeckia “Henry Eilers” has unique petals that look rolled or tubular. Johnson County K-State Research & Extension

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