Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wildflower Wednesday: A few must have fall blooming Asteraceas for the garden

Asteraceas rock Autumn. They bloom spring and summer here, but, come September they take center stage for all the pollinators, birds and mammals that are preparing for winter.

They may even be my favorite flower family....and what a flowering family it is with over 23,000 recognized species world wide. Here in Tennessee we have 320 to choose among, many of which we will only see if we look for them as we walk trails in wilderness areas or nature preserves.

Many of the Asteraceaes that I love can be found in old fields, prairie remnants and along the roadsides;  plants that until recently have been thought of as weeds.
Goldenrod/Solidago flowers
You've probably heard folks refer to these flowering plants as composites. Sunflower family is another name I've seen used. When plants are classified in a family it's because they have a similar genetic makeup and similar characteristics. Most Asteraceas have characteristics that make identifying them easier. For instance, if you look closely at any of the flowers in this post, you will see that what looks like one single flower is actually a composite of many smaller tube shaped florets. They have disk flowers, ray flowers or a combination of disks and rays. They also have bracts rather than sepals and they need wind or animals to disperse their seeds.
Verbesina virginica with numerous disk florets that are surrounded by ray florets
Most of the Asteraceas in my garden are rough and tumble, take care of themselves beauties that fill an important role in a garden ecosystem. Each one of these darlings provides more pollen and nectar return on investment than many other flowers combined.
numerous gold or yellow disk florets, surrounded by 30 or more ray florets
I think of them as landing pads of deliciousness for butterflies, bees, wasps and moths. They're magnets for all kinds of insects; including some that are themselves food for spiders, birds and other insect eating critters

I love this time of year with the attention grabbing Frostweeds, golden yellow of goldenrod, the brilliant pink and purple of the ex-asters, and the lilac-blues of Hardy Blue Mistflower against the Autumn blue sky. These early fall blooms with their intense, rich colors are a treat for our senses and necessary for our garden residents and visitors. 
If you asked me what plants I recommend for a pollinator friendly fall garden, I would tell you that you can't go wrong with the four I'm showcasing today.

You don't have to take my word for it~just walk trails in a local park, visit native plant gardens or check out your local nursery and notice which plants are attracting the most pollinator visitors.

Please enjoy a few more photos of my early fall favorites!

Verbesina virginica with its unusual white ray flowers is found on roadsides, woodlands and waste areas. It's a take care of itself plant that has enormous wildlife value for foraging pollinators (carpenter, honeybees, bumbles and small tongued bees and butterflies) during late summer when gardens are winding down.  It’s such an important food source for Monarch Butterflies that it had been selected as a monitoring plant by Monarch Watch. Frostweed grows in full sun, partial shade, or full shade with minimal watering or care.  Like most rough and tumble wildflowers, it can take care of itself.  Keep in mind that it reproduces very well from seed! The earliest I've seen the flowers open is late August in my Middle South garden and the best bloom is mid-September. Once in bloom you can expect them to be visited by an array of pollinators. The foliage is a larval host for the Summer Azure, Bordered Patch, and Silvery Checkerspot butterflies.

It really has a  lot going for it

  1. rough and tumble good looks, 
  2. it's a pollinator magnet
  3. drought tolerant 
  4. native species 
  5. it magically makes ice flowers on cold and frosty mornings
  6. Okay, it's not magic it's capillary action, but, I think that's magical.
It's a pretty spiffy wildflower.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae/ex-aster

Here's another roadside weed that has hundreds of beautiful cultivars. It's a classic daisy flower that blooms in mid-September in my garden and looks spectacular with the Goldenrods. At one time this planting had a cultivar name, but the seedlings have taken over. Symphyotrichum novae-angliae are the first of the ex-asters to bloom. They're tall and gently sway in the slightest breeze. I didn't edit any out this past spring and they've spread to make a lovely show in pinks and purples.

Bumblebees, small bees, carpenterbees, butterflies, skippers and beneficial insects flock to these flowers.  Full sun and moist soil is preferred. I cut this plant back in June, but it still gets tall. Very easily grown from seed, this beauty has seeded itself all over my garden. But, you know, I love that!

Hardy Blue mist flower: Many gardeners under appreciate the charms of Hardy Ageratum. They consider it too weedy and aggressive for their gardens, until it blooms and then they begin wondering why the heck they haven't more of it! I no longer wonder why I haven't more, I've let it spread 4 feet down the side of the Susan's bed and I am thrilled with the river of blue.  

Conoclinium coelestinum is a graceful, low growing, eastern North American native wildflower that begins blooming in late August and continues through early fall. The lilac-blue flowers add a softness to late summer and fall gardens when rough and tumble flowers like the Susans, Goldenrods, Cup Plant, Verbesinas, Joe-Pye weeds and Ironweeds are making a large and loud scene. It's especially beautiful when allowed to naturalize and make its own big statement.

Butterflies and bees are drawn to the nectar-rich flowers, while birds eat the seeds. If you want more, and once you see it massed you will, it's easily propagated from seeds, cuttings, rootball divisions or layering. It thrives best in a well-drained acidic to neutral soils in a sunny environment. If you want easy care this is a great wildflower, but, it does naturalize easily, spreading by rhizome and seed (and is pulled out just as easily). 

Goldenrod/Solidago sps.

Goldenrods provide a big flower show each year and every bee, skipper, butterfly, soldier beetle, ambush bug, fly, spider, flower fly, etc... that visits or lives in this garden can be found noshing on it. You can't ask for a better wildlife valuable plant and when you combine them with the ex-asters, you get beauty and happy pollinators.

Goldenrods are the king of the colonizing wildflowers, some more than others! Don't let that stop you from adding them to your sunny garden. There are 100s of Solidago species in North America and you can be sure you will find several that make sense for your garden. I grow Solidago 'Fireworks' in the Susans Bed and Zigzag goldenrod/Solidago flexicaulis in one of the woodland gardens.  Neither are colonizers.  The rest are species and aggressive colonizers that I cull every spring and fall.

Give me this time of year with the intense colors of the wildflowers and the frenetic activity of pollinators, birds and other critters. These early fall blooms are a treat for the senses. But, my friends, it's only the beginning of the full fall show in a Middle South garden and I'll be sharing more Asteraceas and their critter visitors with you in the coming weeks.

Please remember, if you want to provide for fall pollinators you must plant landing pads of deliciousness like Goldenrods, Verbesinas, Hardy Bluemist flower, the ex-asters, and other wildflowers and you must never, ever, ever, ever, use pesticides in your garden. I do mean never!

Happy Wildflower Wednesday.

Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if your wildflower is in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Beautiful photos!
    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!

  2. I love your post! It made me want to go back and put some photos of my blue mistflowers. I have two clumps. The have spread far enough that they probably overtook some spring bloomers I had in there. I'll have to see if I can tell what was there in the spring, and pull out a little of the mistflower. They normally have skippers and other insects on them, but when I was taking photos for my post, there weren't any. I think it's because the New England asters are blooming now, and they are drawn to them more now.

  3. I have a beautiful white wildflower that just showed up in my garden. I like where it is and will let it live there. I love the solidago by your mailbox. Beautiful with the aster peeking out from within.

  4. I want frostweed. I must say, asteracae is my favorite flower family too. "Landing pads of deliciousness." I like that. I couldn't get rid of blue mist flower even if I wanted to. It has wound its way throughout the fall garden, but it's a pretty nice colonizer so it's okay. I pull up hunks of it all season long and still have plenty for the flutterbys. I love your garden. I hope to see it one day. Thanks for always writing about the pollinators.~~Dee

  5. What a gorgeous display of autumn beauties! My asters have really taken over in the butterfly garden the past few years, but since my favorite colors in the garden are pink and purple, they're perfect. This year I also have quite a few Hairy Asters, also known by other names like Frost Aster. Many people think of it as a weed, but when it's in bloom, it's really attractive and the pollinators love it. I really need to add some mistflower!

  6. I have a carpenter bee for you - and one day - I will achieve your sort of quality and detail in my photos!

  7. Excellent post, as always, Gail! I couldn't agree with you more, and I'm adding more and more of these Asteraceae plants to my garden every year--there are so many options and many of them work well in an Oak Savanna/Oak Woodland setting. Happy WW! Thanks for hosting!

  8. Beautiful photos. I just love autumn -- the food, the sweaters, the weather -- but the autumn garden might top the list. Goldenrod and Asters are a joyful combination and mix perfectly with the reds, browns, oranges and purples of the changing foliage of the trees and the fading grasses and flowers. I will have to investigate whether Frostweed is native to S. Ontario so I might add it to my garden. Cheers to autumn and your great post!

  9. Wonderful post & such glorious photos. There are so many wonderful fall plants and those that attract a host of pollinators and beneficial insects are always at the top of my list.

  10. Wowzers! These photos are particularly stunning Gail. I was just at a local botanical garden yesterday, and admired that wild ageratum,looking so hale and hearty when so many plants this time of year are buggy and bedraggled.

  11. I love the fall flowers. Watching the pollinators work on these gorgeous blooms is so entertaining. Hardy ageratum and solidago are work horses in my garden.

  12. If I was a bee, I'd love to live in your garden, Gail! Great post! Thank you!

  13. Finally able to sit up after being slapped down by the flu on Wednesday -- mid-post -- it is done now at http://washingtongardener.blogspot.com/2016/09/wildflower-wednesday-blue-and-white.html. :-)
    BTW always on my to-do is to add more Asters to my gardens - they are such workhorses.

  14. Absolutely lovely. As I drive around town I see goldenrod all along the roadside.

  15. I think I may have been looking at the blue mist flower and thinking it was another kind of Joe Pye weed. I will have to look closer. And I found a new goldenrod on my property recently, likes shade and moist conditions. Haven't identified it yet and my pics are blurry, so what I featured this month was the first witch hazel I found growing on our land.

  16. Love all the purple. Beautiful photos as usual.

  17. I have the hardy ageratum in my garden this year for the first time. I was given a few plants by a friend last year in late summer. They didn't look like much but I kept them watered and this year I have a wonderful big patch - easily managed. I moved a bunch of them to an area of our 'hugel' when it is free to colonize. I love watching the pollinators on my asters.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson