10 Plants That Actually Thrive Outdoors During the Fall

updated Aug 1, 2023
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Fall-flowering potted plants placed on the outdoor steps of a home's entrance
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Summer may be coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean your gardening needs to end, too! While you might be familiar with colorful annuals that thrive in late summer, when the weather is hot, there are plenty of fall outdoor plants that will love the cooler weather of the coming season.

There are, of course, a range of gardening zones in the United States that will impact when your fall planting season begins (find the USDA’s map of hardiness zones here). If you live in more Northern states, your fall will begin sooner and your first frost will be earlier than your Southern counterparts.

These fall plants can handle cooler temperatures — in some cases even prefer them — and will bring interest to your garden until first frost. Some can be planted in the ground to return in the spring as perennials; other annuals are better suited to outdoor container gardens or window box gardens.

Here, 10 fall plants that work across a range of USDA hardiness zones.

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1. Bee Balm

Bee balm, also called Monarda, is a late-summer bloomer, and it’s (unsurprisingly, given its name) a favorite among pollinators. What’s also great about these plants is that they can grow well in partial shade if you’re unable to give them full sun, says Rebecca Sears, CMO and Resident Green Thumb at Ferry-Morse.

Even if you miss your shot to see the beautiful tubular flowers on these plants, it’s still worth adding them to your yard in autumn. These perennials are hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, and grow best when they’re planted in the cool weather of both spring and fall.

Add bee balm to your yard now, and you’ll see blooms in shades of red, salmon, or pink next summer.

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2. Heuchera

Heuchera is a favorite evergreen of gardeners who love color in shady corners of their flower beds.

Heuchera is a low-growing plant the produces flower spikes throughout the season, and a wonderful plant to use as a border filler or in damp place in your garden.  Its tall spike blooms and its often colorful foliage are both great additions to cut flower bouquets.

Try the “Silver Gum Drop” variety, which has gorgeous, silvery foliage with a touch of rosy goodness that erupts later in the season.

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3. Petchoa

The Petchoa — a Petunia and Calibrachoa hybrid — is a fairly new addition to the gardening scene.

“The Petchoa is a low-maintenance annual  plant that is excellent for adding early and late-season color to gardens and containers,” Sears says. These plants thrive in the cooler weather of both spring and fall.

Sears adds that, like the Petunia and the Calibrachoa, the Petchoa looks particularly nice in hanging baskets. They grow best in full or partial sunlight.

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4. Sedum

Sedum, or stone crop, is one of the hardiest plants out there, which makes it a strong addition to any fall garden.

These plants are long-blooming and easy to care for. Sedums prefer full sun and minimal watering, making them extremely drought-tolerant.

Sedums are super versatile when it comes to design, too. You can use them as a ground cover or pop them into a pot to create a drapey effect as they spill over the edges.

There are many different varieties of sedums to suit a lot of different tastes. I personally love the “Thunderhead” variety, with its huge raspberry-colored blooms. “Lime Zinger” is also a very popular option as a dense ground cover; it has bright green foliage with bright red edges.

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5. Echinacea

There are lots of varieties of Echinacea, or coneflower, with the light purple shade probably being the most recognizable. But Sears has a different pick: the Echinacea “Cheyenne Spirit,” which has pretty fall-appropriate colors of oranges, yellows, and reds.

“This is a drought-resistant variety that provides excellent overwinter performance and delivers a beautiful display of blooms in the first year,” Sears says — a treat, since many perennials don’t flower until they’ve been in your yard a couple of years.

“They’re also great for adding dimension to your garden beds through different plant heights, as they typically grow between 18 to 30 inches,” Sears adds.

Echinacea grow best in full sun, but don’t need much water to thrive — just about an inch per week.

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6. Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums are widely known and widely polarizing — you either love them or hate them. They also signal the end of summer: When greenhouses start to put their mums out, you know the dog days are over and the chill will soon set in. 

What folks are used to seeing is the Chrysanthemum morifolium, also known as the common garden mum. However, there are so many different, funky-looking varieties of chrysanthemums out there to be discovered! From tiny blooms to big, show-stopping flowers that resemble dahlias, there’s bound to be a mum for you.

Varieties like “Real Charmer” and the common garden mum are typically available to purchase in the late summer for the duration of fall. Most of the mums available for purchase at this time are only hardy in USDA zones 7 through 9; they’ll be an annual anywhere else.

There are perennial mums that will return in zones 5 through 9, but you’ll need to plant those in very early spring so that they have plenty of time to get established before fall.

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7. Celosia

Celosia is an eye-catching annual with feather-like blooms that come in a variety of colors ranging from bright yellow to deep crimson. (For that dark, dramatic tone, Sears recommends the variety Fresh Look Red.)

The color isn’t just limited to the garden, though. “As an added bonus, you can dry the cut flowers and they will keep their vivid colors for at least six months,” says Sears.

Celosia prefer full sun, which means you’ll need to find a spot in your garden where they’ll receive at least eight hours of sunlight.

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8. Asters

If you want an interesting pop of color during the fall months, look to asters. The “Bluebird” variety produces hardy blooms through the end of the season. And the blooms’ beautiful pale blue is a welcome contrast to the usual fall colors of maroon, mahogany, and purple. 

Asters like full-sun exposure. They do not like their roots to sit in water, so make sure to plant in well-draining soil.

Asters can grow up to 4 feet tall, making them well suited for areas where you need some extra height.

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9. Perovskia “Russian Sage”

Russian sage is another option for a unique pop of color during autumn. This violet blue perennial has delicate, dusty-colored foliage. It’s a full-sun plant that blooms from summer all the way through fall. 

Russian sage is a hardy plant that does well planted in a bed or in a container. It’s drought-tolerant and does not like to have its roots sitting in water.

If you’re looking for a great pollinator plant, Russian sage is loved by both butterflies and bees. 

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10. Violas

Violas are cool weather staples. Often mistaken for pansies, violas have small blooms that are rarely larger than a nickel.

There are many, many varieties of violas, but try “Northern Lights” if you’re searching for a plant with a more saturated color palette. The bright yellow center fades out into a deep purple. 

The little blooms of violas are fragrant additions to outdoor gardens. These flowers like part-sun exposure and regular watering, and they can be used in beds or container gardening.