By Sharon Reeve, for Let’s Talk Plants! December 2022.
Fall Bloomers for Your Garden
It is always a relief for me when the cooler temperatures of fall come bringing the promise of rain. Fall is also the season that some plants really shine with peak bloom. Here are several fall bloomers that I enjoy in my garden.
Senna splendida 'Golden Wonder'.
Senna splendida ‘Golden Wonder’ is a lovely small tree. If it isn’t pruned, it is a large shrub. The flowers of this plant are showy, large, and long-lasting. They are easily three inches across and a nice rich buttery yellow. While its main bloom period is in the fall, it puts out blooms intermittently all year. All sennas are host plants for Sulphur Butterflies. The caterpillars are green and yellow and blend in with the foliage and are hard to find. There are never enough of them to do any noticeable damage to the foliage. This plant was tough to get established but now it is tough and drought tolerant. It can tolerate a light freeze. Full sun and well-draining soil are requirements for good growth.
Do you remember the polka dot plant so popular in terrariums when we were kids? This lovely plant is in the same genus. I barely notice the glossy light green leaves the rest of the year, but in the fall, it is engulfed in lavender ribbon-like flowers. Cut back Hypoestes aristata after blooming to keep it densely growing. I keep this one around three feet tall and wide. I water this about once a week to ten days in the summer and not at all in the winter. This South African native is an easy plant to grow in full sun/light shade and well-drained soil. It will tolerate light frosts and is evergreen. It is popular with hummingbirds and bees. Like the Poinsettia, the colorful flowers are actually fused bracts instead of petals.
If you only have shade and want to attract hummingbirds, don’t despair! This is a shade-growing hummingbird plant that will bloom in fairly dense shade. Of course, there will be more blooms if you give it more sun, but it blooms surprisingly well in shade. Odontonema strictum grows to about six feet tall and is a strongly upright plant. In the fall, large spikes of the most incredible red form in the leaf axils and ends of branches. The flowers do not bloom all at once and will open from the bottom up over a long period of time. Even after the flowers drop off the spike. the structure left behind is bright red and showy. This plant looks so tropical with its large glossy foliage, but it is surprisingly drought-tolerant and easy to grow. Cut it back after bloom for more branches and more flowers. It is light frost tolerant. They say that hummingbirds can see red a mile away and I do not doubt it with this plant!
Dombeya burgessiae ‘Seminole.’
Dombeya burgessiae ‘Seminole.’ Why this plant isn’t grown more in San Diego is a mystery to me. It is one of the easiest, most rewarding plants in my garden! It is a robust grower that blooms from an early age. In the fall, it is smothered in pink bouquets of flowers. This plant wants to be eight feet tall and wide, so I chop it to the ground after it blooms, to keep it around five feet. While other plants languish and droop in the summer heat, this one stays healthy and strong with very little water. It takes full sun to part shade. I think it benefits from a little shade. It can be propagated by layering low-growing branches. The leaves are large, slightly fuzzy, and have a grey-green color, which is typical for members of the Malvaceae. This plant will tolerate a light frost. In San Diego, fall can be a rewarding and bloom-filled occasion if we take the time to find autumn-flowering plants. There are a surprising number of plants that bloom in the fall. My goal is to have plants in bloom all year round, and we can in Zone 10.