Ask A Master Gardener-Mums and So Much More!

Are mums your go-to plant for the fall? They are mine, and based on how popular they are, for many others as well.  There are many varieties of colors, sizes of blooms and heights to choose from, and for the most part I have been successful in overwintering them from year to year.  The key is to plant them in the spring, in full sun and in well-drained soil.  They also need a spot where they will be protected from winter winds.  After they are done blooming, leave the stems up for the winter to protect the roots throughout the winter.  If you look past the mums there are plenty of other plants that can add color to the fall landscape.  Here are just a few.

Asters are a colorful, native perennial that are right up there with the mum as a popular fall blooming plant. There are two main types of asters, New England (Aster novae-angliae) and New York (Aster novi-belgii).  New England asters tend to be taller and have thick hairy stems and hairy leaves.  New York asters are shorter, the stems are thinner and without the irritating hairs.  Like the mum they come in various colors from red, purple, blue and white.  Plant asters in full sun with a well-drained loamy soil.  Asters are also a late season source of pollen for pollinators, including 19 species of butterflies.

Toad Lily (Tricyrtis spp.), native to Asia, is a late season bloomer for shady areas, that will add an exotic touch to the garden.  They prefer moist soil rich in organic matter and can handle a variety of light conditions, from deep shade to dappled sun.  The small orchid like flowers come in a variety of colors, and open in late summer to early fall and will last a few weeks or until a hard frost.  Since the flowers are small and delicate, plant where they can be enjoyed up close.  The one down side to these plants – deer and rabbit like them as well.

There are several annuals that add color to the fall gardens. Ornamental cabbage and kale, (which are in the same species as edible cabbage) are great additions to the fall garden.  They get large rosettes of pink, white, purple, red leaves in the fall when the weather cools and can survive temperatures as low as 5° F.  Ornamental cabbage and kale are edible, although they have a bitter flavor; most often they are used as a garnish.


Ornamental peppers (capsicum annuum) are grown for show rather than eating.  They produce colorful fruit that are either rounded or pointed.  There can be different colors of fruit on one plant, as they are in different stages of ripening.  Peppers on the ornamental pepper plant are upright and above the foliage, where typical peppers in the garden hang downward.  The plants are great for borders or containers and prefer full sun.  Even though the peppers are edible, it is not recommended.  They can be incredibly hot and care should be taken as well when handling the fruit.

Native or non-native, perennial or annual, grass or sedge, shrub or tree; there are many plants available to add color to your fall landscape. Take a walk, visit a botanical garden, or do a little research to find the plants that will add the color to your fall landscape.

Have a colorful autumn.

Chris Jacobs

Certified Master Gardener

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