Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
September, 2008
Regional Report

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Lovely companions in the fall landscape: goldenrod and sunflowers.

Fall Wildflowers

Even though many of us are still experiencing hot weather, the excitement of school beginning and fall colors peeking through every once in a while gives me an unbelievable boost. On a recent walk I was struck by how many things are just on the verge of bursting into bloom, not to mention those late-summer beauties that are already in their glory. As we move toward peak color, there are many fall wildflowers to be on the lookout for in the next two months.

Perennial Sunflower
Our Midwestern perennial sunflower is in full evidence along roadsides and fields right now. This 6-foot native has golden yellow flowers whose seed heads are prized by finches and other songbirds. There are many cultivars of this plant that can be introduced into the garden, but a simple walk along any road will give you a glimpse of how beautiful our native wildflowers can be.

Cup Plant
Cup plants are also in bloom right now with daisy-like flowers. Cup plant foliage is much larger than sunflower foliage, and the flowers are held at the top instead of all along the stems. An interesting fact is that the large leaves join at the stem to form a small cup which holds water and attracts birds.

Alongside the sunflowers are goldenrods of every stature and golden hue. Goldenrods often take the brunt of complaints about allergies this time of year, but they are not the culprits. They just happen to be the showy plant that grows with the not-so-showy ragweed that causes all the sneezing, coughing, and itching. Goldenrod pollen is heavy and sticky so it doesn't float through the air into our sinuses. Ragweed pollen, with its spiky coats, floats ever so gently into our air passages to cause all manner of discomfort. So, feel free to appreciate the goldenrod with its heavy tresses of gold blossoms.

One of my favorite elements in the natural landscape is milkweed. These large plants have sweetly scented pinkish blossoms in spring, and this time of year they are ripening the huge decorative seedpods. Soon the pods will mature and split open to release the silky fluff that helps the seeds fly and settle. Best of all, these plants provide food for monarch butterfly larvae.

Perhaps most striking of all the fall flowers is the aster, specifically the New York aster and New England aster. These are on the verge of blooming now, and will soon be blanketing the fields and roadsides with blossoms of lavender, blue, white, and pink. They will be joined by the whites of daisy fleabane and white upland asters. What a beautiful fall landscape!

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