By Mary-Kate Mackey
Encore®Azaleas are known for their reblooming capabilities. So, what fall-flowering plants will partner with them? For easy-care, look for certain native species and what are termed nativars, a horticultural word-play on cultivars. Nativars are plants that carry the good qualities of the species, like toughness, or tolerance of a wide range of conditions, and then are bred for added value, such as larger flowers or different colors.
Look for both species and nativars suitable to your area at independent garden centers and native plant nurseries. Here are some choice companions that will play well in your West Coast autumn garden.
The native Douglas aster (Symphyotrichum subspicatum) has fine foliage that contrasts well with the Encores’ sturdy leaves. Growing 2-feet tall in the wild from Alaska to California, the long-blooming blue flowers complement many colors, such as pink Autumn Sweetheart™or red Autumn Embers™for a terrific fall show. This native enjoys the steady watering that all Encores need.
An example of a nativar aster is the low-growing S. lateriflorum ‘Lady in Black.’ The dark purple foliage forms 2- to 3-foot mounds. Plant it around Encores like the white Autumn Lily™and it will mirror that color with tiny white flowers in fall.
Dahlias are floriferous fall performers but the species are often too tall to relate to your azaleas. However, cultivated dwarf low-growers – 2- to 3-feet – can pair well. Smaller dahlias will bloom early and continue right through fall, no staking needed. Consider Dahlia ‘Honka,’ reminiscent of the species with its star-shaped yellow flowers, or D.‘Gallery Monet’ that features cream-colored blossoms tipped in pale lilac. Choose a single color and mass them around a plant like the peachy Autumn Sunburst™. Dahlias will overwinter in the ground to Zone 7 and above, protected by the same thick mulch you’re using around your Encores.
The species Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is a reliable fall bloomer that will rise up behind the repeating blossoms of an azalea like Autumn Jewel™. Reaching 6- to 8-feet tall and wide, Joe Pye’s soft pink flowers will create a beautiful backdrop. The stems stand up through winter weather and can be cut down in the spring – just in time to focus attention on the Encores’ new floral displays.
For smaller gardens, the Joe Pye nativar E. dubium ‘Little Joe’ has been bred to be shorter and more compact, topping out at 3- to 4-feet with long-blooming mauve-pink flowers. It pairs well with intermediates like Autumn Lilac™. Both the species and the nativar have the same water and sun requirements as your Encores – perfect perennial partners.