Varied landscape: Hydrangea, stonecrop, Iberis, Heliopsis and more.
Erich Mueller, owner of Northern Lights Landscape Contractors, says regardless of which plants bring out your favorite fall colors, they’ll still need a little help from you.
“Of course everybody with our busy schedules wants low maintenance, but all plants need some type of lovin’. Everything needs care, water, pruning,” Mueller said.
But, he added, a good foundation will help keep plants healthy in the crisper days ahead. “Good soil and water is the key. Once plants get established, they’ll do their own thing.”
For a typical fall garden, Mueller said Northern Lights makes sure some pop of color arrives through the seasons, not just when summer is on the wane.
“We use a lot of hydrangea, a lot of grasses, a lot of daisies. We really try to provide a customer’s yard with color all year long, stuff that’s going to be early spring, mid-summer, late summer, fall. So constantly you’re able to get some reward from your garden.”
This season, Mueller said the unique shape and color of hydrangea shrubs can be an attractive choice, and can also serve as a good cut flower.
“It’s got a really nice shape … big, big flowers. They’re blooming now. It would be early fall, but they hold their color for awhile until the first frost. They turn white to darker red as they get a little bit older.”
The broad leaves of a hydrangea plant can contrast well with the succulent sedum, or the more commonly named stonecrop. Stonecrop varieties are a versatile companion plant during autumn.
And since it’s a groundcover, it will help prevent soil erosion and cut down on weeds. Good groundcovers include Irish moss and Ajuga Bronze Beauty, also known as bugleweed. Ajuga is a hardy plant with bronze-like foliage and purple spikes in the spring, while Irish moss comes in colors like dark purple, red, greenish-yellow or purplish-brown.
Mueller is a fan of the versatile stonecrop.
“That will bloom; that’s a beautiful perennial. They turn from a green to a vibrant red. That tends to bring a lot of butterflies around,” he said.
For example, Sedum acre, also known as goldmoss stonecrop, can carpet the ground with bright yellow five-pointed flowers in a border or a container garden.
In addition, Mueller said stonecrop can also be paired with Iberis, also known as candytuft. This flowering plant is a nice option for those who like both shoulder seasons, as Iberis can show off white flowers twice a year, once in the spring and once in autumn.
Heliopsis, also known as oxeye, also goes well with stonecrop. This perennial has a bright yellow flower reminiscent of a sunflower (it’s in the same family).
“With the Iberis, Heliopsis is a really nice one. That’s what they call the false sunflower,” said Mueller.
Those are all perennials; as far as annuals, fall mums are still one of the best choices for backyard color. Planting groups of sweet alyssum, with its small blooms, should not be far behind on the list.
“Sweet alyssum comes in whites, purples and pinks. That’s a really nice bloomer right now,” Mueller said.
Grasses and trees
For even more variety, Mueller recommends groupings of tall reed grasses, or “maiden grasses,” found in the miscanthus family. Miscanthus can look nice as a backdrop to lower-growing plants like the hydrangea or the false sunflower.
These free-flowing, sometimes-silvery grasses can sometimes make gentle rustling sounds as the wind passes through the blades.
Types of miscanthus include Karl Foerster, Morning Light and Porcupine.
“They all will (make sound) to a point because of the shape and their size. The Porcupine miscanthus really catches a lot of wind,” Mueller said.
“I leave all my grasses up all winter, until the snow pounds them down and then you can’t see them anymore,” he added.
Gardeners looking for trees to show off those classic New England fall colors of fiery reds and oranges could pick a few sugar maples.
“They’re probably one of your best,” Mueller said, adding that Japanese maples, like the Lace Leaf, are another good choice.
“I also like amelanchier, which is a really nice tree. Apple Service Berry, they call it,” he said.
Regardless of whether you pair, for example, candytuft and hydrangea with maiden grasses, or stonecrop with false sunflower, Mueller recommends sticking with native, non-hybrid plants.
“We always try to use hardy native plants … tried and true New England. Hybrids were popular, but I think a lot of people are going back to the traditional non-hybrids, all the heirloom plants, because they’re tried and true.”
Mueller has found several benefits to growing non-hybrids.
“I stick to the true heirloom plants — they’re the original grade. They’re not crossed with something else, so the genetic (makeup) of the plant is its own. Try to stick with what works.”
And if you’re still unsure about whether to buy annuals or perennials this fall, Mueller said it’s always a good idea to use plants that will return every year.
“I always vote for perennials. Annuals are okay for baskets and flowerpots on your porch, but why not buy something that keeps living?”
Fire pits and lighting
For an instant showstopper for your fall backyard landscape, fire pits or other sources of light can strike up a quick conversation, brightening up your space.
“It’s a place for people to hang outside of their house. It brings a meeting place … warmth. Fire is always one of the elements, right? So I think it’s attractive to people — you smell a fire and hear it and see it. It’s a comforting feeling. I think a lot of people want to sit around their fire pit and relax,” he said.
If you’re seeking more illumination and not necessarily warmth, there are many kinds of landscape lighting to choose from.
“Landscape lighting is a huge thing for us. It allows you to really enjoy your landscape in the dark. (It) accents your plants and really creates a mood in the yard, and also, I think, a feeling of safety.”
One landscape lighting effect called “uplighting” can illuminate walkways and patios when dusk fades to dark.
“We do a lot of uplighting, which uplights into tree canopies. And then we do under-cap lighting for walls. And it really allows you to enjoy, whether it’s your hardscape or your softscape, all the time. Nowadays they can all be run off a smart phone.”
Northern Lights Landscape Contractors is at 395 Elm St. in Milford. Call 654-2004 or visit www.nllandscapes.com.