I am writing this in my white jeans – I have three pairs that get worn through all the seasons. I love fashion, and I love to cross fashion inspiration with all the design practices that intrigue me (garden design is right at the top of the list). But that after Labor Day whites rule is just dumb.
My fall garden is full of bright white autumn-blooming plants that look like they are up for a day of tennis at snooty club tennis. They are pristine and pretty – in stark contrast to everything else in the perennial garden – those plants are into bright colors as one last hurrah for the garden season. The best white flowers in the autumn garden keep all the other plants looking a bit more intentional. The chaos of fall flower gardens isn’t just about and end of the season falling apart – but a late party where everyone comes unglued with panache before they sign off til next year.
I don’t have a formal ‘white garden,’ but if you do, you could use this list of white fall-blooming perennials as seasonal planting inspiration. Also – remember – I live in New England borderline zone 5/6 – these are what works for me – you may need to adjust your selection (particularly of native plants) if you live in different USDA hardiness zones or warmer climates. The whites in my garden are mixed in and are powerful foils for all the other seasonal colors that erupt after Labor Day. They create the contrast that makes it look like a garden. It is always the contrast that makes every detail more interesting.
The best plants for adding some after Labor Day white flowers that will bloom in your fall garden:
There are a few hydrangea varieties that will still be blooming in late summer and into the fall. The most common and easiest to find are the Hydrangea Annabelle and the Limelight Hydrangeas. Both are excellent additions to the garden, but after many years of growing both in New England, I have to admit my love for Annabelle is slipping.
I have a few planted where they have grown quite large – but as they age, they have gotten floppier and more difficult to manage. There is less of an abundance of flowers, and I am considering a huge hard pruning this winter with the hopes of refreshing them and really clearing out an excess of dead wood. Other Anabelles, planted in sandy soil and a shadier setting, have struggled to thrive. They are tough enough to live, but they aren’t very tall, they don’t stand upright, and they only have a handful of branches. In all, I find the Annabelles to be just okay – I’d rather choose a limelight or an oakleaf hydrangea for beautiful white flower heads in the fall. Plus, both of these choices do exceedingly well in partial shade (which covers most of my garden).
Limelight Hydrangeas and Oak Leaf Hydrangeas
The limelight hydrangea is as reliable as they come. They are tough and tolerant, and no matter what the summer has been like, they will always have plenty of blooms in the early fall. If you are interested in super big flower heads, you can easily manipulate the flower size with strategic pruning – check out this post about my experiments in growing giant hydrangeas.
The oak leaf hydrangea is a real star in my garden. Many of them start with white blooms, but over the course of the blooming season, these deciduous shrubs not only produce gorgeous flowers that fade to shades of pink and even red but also this deciduous shrub put on a beautiful foliage display with large leaves that turn beautiful shades of red and purple. Oakleaf hydrangea is a native plant to most of the east coast of the United States. Both are great cut flowers that will dry nicely in the vase over the winter.
There are many clematis that bloom white, and the most notable late bloomer is Sweet Autumn Clematis, which puts out a profusion of flowers late in the season. This plant loves to be in the full sun and will not disappoint. But there are other more refined white clematis as well, and my favorite is Diamond Ball.
The enchanting, silvery-blue flowers look white in the darker tones of a shadier garden. Diamond ball is an eye-catching focal point because the flower heads are unique – they look heavy on the dainty vines with their thick double flowers. Grow ‘Diamond Ball’ in well-drained soil in a sunny or partially shaded location. I like mine paired with ornamental grasses (because I like everything with grasses) and other fall-blooming plants that Japanese anemone or the complimentary purple flowers of Russian sage.
In my own garden, the latest blooming of the ornamental small trees is the Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Sons Tree). Its sweet scent and profusion of white flowers in the late fall mean that it is literally swarming with bees and pollinators. This is great since, with climate change, pollinators have the hardest time withstanding very early and very late season warm spells when food sources aren’t as readily available. This fast-growing tree will be covered with white flower clusters in only a few short seasons.
White blooming daisies
Montauk Daisies (Nipponanthemum nipponicum also known as Nippon Daisy) and Michaelmas daisy ‘Monte Cassino’ (Symphyotrichum pilosum var. pringlei ‘Monte Cassino’ or Aster pringlei) are two of my favorite ways to bring the simplicity of creamy white flowers into the late autumn garden.
Both are great for flower arrangements, and both are particularly great when planted en masse. Daisy-like flowers are always the most popular flowers, so I’d recommend planting both.
Montauk daisies are a slightly larger perennial with dark green foliage that is succulent-like. (It very much reminds me of the leaves of the nearby autumn joy sedum that is also giving full fall color). The leaves are thick and glaucus and stand up well in the garden and in the vase.
Michaelmas daisies (unlike Maintauks) are a native plant (to much of North America). They have a more compact habit, and the foliage is less notable – but they will have a profusion of star-shaped flowers that are a great addition to a pollinator garden. These are great perennial flowers to replace the less hardy mums that pervade this time of year – plus, they are deer-resistant. Their native habitat is wet meadows, so for best results, make sure you plant them in reliably moist soil.
>>> Read more about native asters for the fall garden – Planting Aster ericoides for a fall snow flurry of flowers
Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ – Chocolate Snake root
Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ (White Snakeroot, syn: Ageratina altissima ‘Chocolate) is one of my new plants in the last couple of years, and I have been very happy with both the attractive foliage (from late spring when it emerges and though the summer) as well as the being one of the best white plants for fall. The mature plants are about feet tall and wide, and the white fuzzy flower heads sit atop dark foliage with deep burgundy stems. This is another plant that is native to much of the eastern United States. These native wildflowers are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 4. They were
Chocolate snakeroot was introduced by the Mt. Cuba Center and is closely related to both Joe Pye weed and boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). I find this to be a good choice for naturalistic style gardens where you need late-season color (in both flower and foliage).
There are many other plants that are great fall bloomers – but they aren’t typically white-flowered. You can, however, search for lesser-known varieties of popular plants that will be white bloomers. Coral bells often have a profusion of pink, red, or white flowers in the fall (my favorites are Huechera villosa varieties). Pincushion flower (which is typically purple) is a popular choice for fall color, and it comes in a variety called flutter ‘pure white’. Lastly – look into anise hyssop – it is an easy-to-grow perennial with tall spikes of flowers that the bees love. It is normally shades of purple and blue, but there are a few varieties, like licorice white and snow spike, that will bring more white to your fall garden.
What is blooming white in your garden — shockingly — after Labor Day? – If there are some great white flowering fall plants that I missed – leave me a note – I’d love to try them out and maybe add them to this list. Thanks!
images by rochelle greayer , proven winners,