Shrubs and Grasses for Long-season Interest
by: Karlene Feldker

The following plants were selected from shrubs and grasses that have displayed a long-season of bloom or interest at the Missouri Botanical Garden. In many cases, only the species or a good, representative cultivar of a species has been included. For example, many cultivars of crape mytle are good, long-season bloomers, but only a couple cultivars have been listed. Shrubs are listed first, then grasses.

Abelia × grandiflora
Glossy abelia

This abelia features clusters of fragrant white-tinged-pink, bell-shaped flowers which appear over a long and continuous late spring to fall bloom period. Typically grows on gracefully arching branches to 2-4' tall in the St. Louis area, but usually taller (to 6' tall ) in the warm winter climates of the South (USDA Zones 8-9). Glossy, dark green leaves turn purplish-bronze in autumn.
Amorpha canescens
Lead plant

Lead plant is a Missouri native deciduous shrub growing 1-3' tall and featuring slender, dense, 4-8" spikes of tiny, bluish-purple flowers May-June. Compound leaves are grayish green. Common name of lead plant refers to the once held belief that the plant was an indicator of the presence of lead in the ground.

Buddleja davidii 'Monum' PETITE PLUM
Butterfly bush

'Monum' PETITE PLUM is a compact butterfly bush with an arching, spreading habit which typically grows to 3-5' tall and as wide. Spike-like terminal clusters (4-10" long) of reddish-purple flowers bloom from June to September and sometimes to first frost. Flowers are fragrant, and, as the common name suggests, very attractive to butterflies. Popular fresh cut flower.
Callicarpa dichotoma 'Early Amethyst'
Beautyberry

‘Early Amethyst’ typically grows to 3-4’ tall and 4-5’ wide. Clusters (cymes) of small, lavender-pink flowers bloom in the leaf axils along the stems in summer. Flowers are followed by large clusters of bright, glossy, amethyst-purple fruits (each 1/8” diameter) which ripen in late summer and put on their best show through October. Fruits persist beyond the point of leaf drop but not very far into winter and are attractive to birds.
Caryopteris × clandonensis 'Longwood Blue' 
Bluebeard

'Longwood blue' is a low-mounded, deciduous shrub that may reach a height of 4'.  It is valued for its aromatic, silvery-gray foliage and late summer flowers which are said to resemble clouds of blue smoke or mist. It features a profuse bloom of fragrant, violet-blue flowers from late summer into fall. Flowers are very attractive to butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects.
Clematis 'Jackmanii'
Clematis

Profuse, 5-7" violet-purple flowers cover this vine in mid to late summer. An excellent vine for long-lasting, mid to late summer color. An old favorite which was introduced in England in the mid-1800s
Clethra alnifolia 'Ruby Spice' 
Sweet pepperbush

‘Ruby Spice’ is most noted for its fragrant rose-pink flowers that bloom in late summer, even in shade. It typically grows 4-6’ (less frequently to 8’) tall and features narrow, cylindrical, bottlebrush-like, terminal panicles of extremely fragrant rose pink flowers that bloom for approximately 4-6 weeks in July and August. Dark green leaves (to 4” long) turn a variable but generally attractive yellow/golden brown in fall. Flowers are very attractive to butterflies and bees.
Cotinus coggygria 'Young Lady'
Smoketree

‘Young Lady’ is a compact shrub that typically grows 4-6’ tall over the first 10 years. It is perhaps best noted for its manageable size, its respectable bloom at an early age (hence the cultivar name) and its floriferous and attractive bloom. It gets its common name of smoketree (or smokebush) not from the tiny, insignificant, yellowish flowers which appear in spring, but from the billowy hairs (attached to elongated stalks on the spent flower clusters) which turn a smoky pink to purplish pink in late spring, thus covering the plant with fluffy, hazy, smoke-like puffs throughout summer. Medium green leaves retain their color throughout the growing season, and turn an attractive yellow-orange-red in fall.
Hamamelis vernalis
Ozark witch hazel

This Missouri native shrub typically grows 6-10' tall (less frequently to 15') with a somewhat larger spread. It blooms for up to 4 weeks extremely early in the year (January to February-March). Fragrant flower clusters have variable coloration, but flowers most frequently have yellow petals and reddish inner calyxes. Dull green leaves (2-5") turn an attractive golden yellow in autumn. 
Hibiscus lasiocarpos
Rose mallow

Rose mallow is a Missouri native plant which typically grows 4-6' tall (infrequently larger) and features showy, hollyhock-like, white or rose flowers (4-6" diameter) with magenta-crimson eyes. It has perhaps the largest flower of the native Missouri wildflowers. Long, mid-summer to fall bloom period.
Hibiscus moscheutos 'Luna Red'
Hardy hibiscus

‘Luna Red’ is a vigorous,rounded hibiscus (or rose mallow) cultivar. It typically grows to only 2-3’ tall. It features dinner plate-sized, five-petaled, hollyhock-like flowers (7-8” diameter). Flowers are deep burgundy red. Individual flowers last only one day, but one or more flowers usually open each day, in succession, over a long mid-summer to early fall bloom period. Flowers are among the largest produced by any perennial that is winter hardy to the St. Louis area.
Hibiscus syriacus
Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon is a vigorous, upright, vase-shaped shrub that typically grows 8-12’ tall. It may be trained as a small tree or espalier. Showy, hollyhock-like flowers (to 3” diameter) appear over a long, early-summer to fall bloom period. Flowers are pink with red eyes.Cultivars greatly expand the available flower color options for this plant to include shades of white, pink, red, mauve and blue in single- or double-flowered forms.
Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'
Smooth hydrangea

'Annabelle' features much larger flowers than the species. It is a deciduous shrub with a rounded habit which typically grows 3-5' tall. Clusters of white flowers appear in huge, symmetrical, rounded heads which typically grow 8-12" across. Blooms in June for up to two months, sometimes with a small repeat bloom in the fall.
Hydrangea quercifolia
Oakleaf hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangea, is broad-rounded,  multi-stemmed shrub that typically grows 4-6' (less frequently to 8') tall. It is noted for producing pyramidal panicles of white flowers in summer on exfoliating branches clad with large oak-like, dark green leaves. Good fall color.

Lagerstroemia 'Chickasaw'
Crape myrtle

This crape myrtle cultivar is a miniature, mildew resistant hybrid developed by the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. It is a deciduous, spreading, densely branched, dwarf-mounded shrub which grows only 20" tall by 26" wide over a period of 7 years. Features glossy dark green foliage and terminal, crepe-papery panicles of pinkish lavender flowers from mid-summer to frost.
Lagerstroemia indica 'Whit III' PINK VELOUR
Crape myrtle

'Whit III', commonly sold under the name PINK VELOUR, features crepe-papery panicles (6-12” long) of magenta-pink flowers from mid-summer to frost on upright branches rising to 6-10' tall. Thick and leathery leaves (to 3" long) emerge burgundy red in spring, mature to purplish green by summer and finally turn orange-brown in fall. Grayish-brown bark on mature branches exfoliates with age. In the St. Louis area where winter injury can be a problem, plants will typically grow to 6-10’ tall. In the deep South, it will grow much taller if not pruned back.
Lespedeza bicolor 'Little Buddy'
Bush clover

‘Little Buddy’ is a compact shrub that grows upright to 3’ tall. Primary ornamental features are dark green leaves and drooping clusters of attractive purple, pea-like flowers that bloom in summer.
Viburnum plicatum 'Summer Snowflake'
Japanese snowball

'Summer Snowflake' is a compact shrub which typically matures 3-5' tall with a similar spread. White flowers in small, flat-topped umbels (to 2-4" diameter) appear in a profuse spring bloom, with sporadic continued bloom occurring throughout the summer. Fertile flowers give way in late summer to orangish-red, berry-like drupes which mature to black. Fruits are attractive to birds and wildlife. Reddish to bronze-purple fall color. Fruits, flowers and autumn foliage color may all be simultaneously present on plants in early fall.

Viburnum × rhytidophylloides 'Alleghany'
Lantanaphyllum viburnum

This hybrid viburnum is a multi-stemmed shrub that typically grows 8-10' tall with a similar spread. Flat creamy white flowers in spring gives way to berries in early fall. Berries first appear bright red and then change to glossy black. Leathery, wrinkled dark green leaves (to 6" long). Foliage is evergreen in the South.
Weigela florida 'White Knight'
Weigela

A deciduous, densely rounded shrub growing to 5' tall which is primarily grown for its profuse, late spring flowering. Bloom frequently covers the entire shrub with funnel-shaped, pure white flowers in May-June, with a less showy repeat bloom usually occurring in late summer. Among weigelas, the flower of this cultivar is unique as it is both fragrant and pure white.
Andropogon gerardii
Big blue stem

Big bluestem may be grown as an ornamental grass because of its attractive foliage which changes color seasonally, its good architectural height and its interesting flower/seed heads. It features  leaves that emerge gray to blue-green in spring, mature to green with red tinges in summer and turn reddish bronze with lavender tones in autumn after frost. Flowering stems rise in late summer bearing purplish 3-parted, finger-like flower clusters purportedly resembling turkey feet (hence the additional common name of turkeyfoot grass). Flowering stems bring total height of this grass to 4-8' tall (typically at the taller end in moist soils and the shorter end in dry soils).
Bouteloua curtipendula
Sideoats grass

Sideoats grama is noted for the distinctive arrangement of oat-like seed spikes which hang from only one side of its flowering stems. Narrow, bluish-gray leaf blades typically form a dense clump growing 1-1.5' tall. Foliage turns golden brown in autumn, sometimes also developing interesting hues of orange and red. Purplish-tinged flowers appear on arching stems above the foliage in early to mid summer, typically bringing the total height of the clump to 3' tall.

Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
Feather reed grass

'Karl Foerster' is valued for its early bloom, vertical lines and ability to grow in wet soils. It is a slowly-spreading, clump-forming ornamental grass which features an erect, slightly arching, slender clump of rich green leaves growing to 3' tall and 2' wide. In June, flower stalks rise well above the foliage to 6' tall bearing narrow plumes of feathery, purplish-green flowers which turn golden as the seeds mature in summer and eventually tan. Clumps generally provide good continuing winter interest. 2001 Perennial Plant of the Year award.
Chasmanthium latifolium
Northern sea oats

This clump-forming, upright, ornamental grass typically grows 2-5' and is distinguished by the flat, drooping seed heads which flutter when caressed by even the softest of breezes. Seed heads emerge green but turn purplish bronze by late summer. Bright green leaves (5-9" long) turn a coppery color after frost and eventually brown by winter. Excellent for dried flower arrangements.
Elymus canadensis
Canada wild rye

Canada wild rye is noted for its arching, wheat/rye-like spikes which bloom in summer and remain attractive well into winter. Clumps typically grow 3-5' tall and feature flat, pointed, bluish-green to green leaves. Greenish flowers appear in arching spikes (to 6" long) which, when mature, gracefully nod and sway in the wind on stiff stems rising well above the foliage. Foliage and spikes turn tan in fall, but continue to provide visual interest throughout much of the winter.
No image Eragrostis trichodes
Sand lovegrass

Sand love grass typically rises to 2-4’ tall. It features shiny dark green blades and purple tinted flowers in July-August. Flower stems do not rise well above the foliage which detracts from the overall plant appearance. Mature plants turn bronze in fall and have continued interest into winter.
Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'
Japanese forest grass

‘Aureola’ is a golden-striped form of Hakone grass. It typically grows in dense spreading clumps to 15” tall and features gracefully arching green leaves variegated with gold longitudinal striping. Yellow-green flowers appear in loose, nodding panicles in mid-summer.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'
Eulalia

'Morning Light' is noted for its very narrow green leaves with white variegation on the margins. Foliage has an overall silvery appearance. Typically forms an upright, rounded clump of foliage growing 4-6' tall. Tiny reddish-copper flowers appear in long tassel-like inflorescences above the foliage in mid to late September, gradually turning into silvery white plumes as the seeds mature. Flower plumes persist well into winter providing good winter interest.
Panicum virgatum 'Dallas Blues'
Switch grass

‘Dallas Blues’ typically grows in a dense, upright, vase-shaped clump to 5’ tall. Grayish blue-green foliage turns attractive shades of rust brown to warm tan in winter. Stems typically retain vertical form without flopping throughout the growing season and into winter. Foliage clump is topped in early September by large, finely-textured, purple-tinged flower panicles that hover over the foliage like a cloud. Seed plumes persist throughout winter, providing visual interest as well as food for birds.
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln'
Fountain grass

'Hameln' features arching, deep green foliage in an upright clump typically growing to 24" tall. Leaves are deep green in summer, changing to orange-bronze in fall and eventually to beige in late fall. Foliage usually remains attractive throughout the winter. Showy, silvery to pinkish-white, wheat-like flower spikes arch outward from the clump in late summer like water spraying from a fountain. Flower spikes turn brownish as the seed forms, and spikes persist until late fall or early winter before shattering.
Saccharum ravennae
Plume grass

Plume grass (sometimes called ravenna grass) forms clumps which typically grow 9-12' tall and 4-6' wide. Similar in appearance to the less hardy Pampas grass. Plumes (to 24" long) appear in late summer well above the foliage. Plumes bloom purplish-bronze turning to silver-gray in fall and persist well into winter. Rustling sound of the foliage when caressed by breezes can be quite calming. Foliage turns an attractive bronze in fall.
Sporobolus heterolepis
Prairie dropseed

Prairie dropseed features fine-textured, hair-like, medium green leaves (to 20" long and 1/16" wide) typically form an arching foliage mound to 15" tall and 18" wide. Foliage turns golden with orange hues in fall, fading to light bronze in winter. Open, branching flower panicles appear on slender stems which rise well above the foliage clump in late summer to 30-36" tall. Flowers have pink and brown tints, but are perhaps most noted for their unique fragrance (hints of coriander).