Goodbye Old Mum

Go a different way this fall.

by Charlie Thigpen

Garden Cabage

You might not want to say goodbye to chrysanthemums forever, but you should try some different plants in your garden this fall. When I first started landscaping many years ago, mums were pretty much the only choice for October planting. I learned to dislike them because they were brittle and would break to pieces while planting, and others would get botrytis from rainy weather, causing foliage and flowers to blacken and die. Nowadays we are lucky to have many options for the autumn garden. So if the heat and drought of summer made your garden look a little tired, it’s time to select and plant flowers or foliage that will refresh and embellish it.

*Autumn Annuals

Try marigolds if you want long-lasting fall blooms. Mums only give you a few weeks of color, but I’ve had marigolds bloom until Christmas. They’ll take a light frost, and their orange, red and yellow flowers complement autumn’s hues. Petunias are also a good alternative for cool-season blooms. Many petunias melt during the heat of summer, but petunias planted in fall will thrive as the temperatures drop. Replace any tired summer annuals with white or purple petunias to give your planters or border some punch.

* Perennials that Perform

There are several cool-season perennials that will return each year for fall blooms. Asters work well on the backside of a border and come in blue, purple, pink and white. Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) is another perennial that looks like a black-eyed Susan on steroids. It also grows tall, sometimes  to seven or eight feet in height, so position it where it has room to sprawl. Autumn Joy sedum is an old-fashioned pass-along perennial that’s more tame growing at about two-feet tall and wide. It produces long-lasting clusters of pinkish flowers that fade rusty red.

*For Birds and Butterflies

Tender perennials such as pineapple sage and Mexican bush sage can add a splash of red and purple to the garden. Pineapple sage’s foliage smells like pineapple and produces lots of red, tube-like blooms that hummingbirds find irresistible. And butterflies flock to Mexican bush sage that has velvety covered purple flowers on tall, arching stems.

*Fantastic Fall Foliage

Ornamental cabbage and kale can make a splash in your garden with their big, bold, textured leaves. They might not have showy blooms but their foliage can be frilly or ruffled, and their variegated leaves come in cream, rose, pink and purple. Cabbage and kale work well in the garden or in containers.

Giant red mustard also has large, showy leaves that display a purple tint with green midribs. The smaller immature foliage can be used in salads to add a peppery flavor, and the larger leaves can be boiled or used in stir-fry dishes. Swiss chard also has showy and tasty leaves. Bright Lights is a popular chard selection that produces dark-green, 18-inch-tall upright leaves that sport cream, gold, orange, pink, purple and red veins and stems. The rainbow of colors creates an awesome visual display, and if you grow tired of looking at them you can stir-fry their leaves or add them to soups.

Lettuce is usually grown only to harvest and eat, but their leaves can also be ornamental. Black Seeded Simpson or Simpson Elite has tender chartreuse, wavy leaves that are great for salads, but their light green foliage can make the fall garden pop. Red Sails dark reddish leaves are also great in a lettuce bowl or in the landscape. Plant a sweep of the Black Seeded Simpson or Simpson Elite next to a sweep of Red Sails and watch the contrasting colors make a show-stopping combo.

This fall you don’t have to rely on dear old mum. There are a plethora of plants suited for the cooler weather, so try something new to embellish your autumn landscape. Remember fall isn’t all about flowers. Bright or unique foliage will brighten any garden, and don’t forget to adorn your entry with farm-fresh pumpkins and gourds as the Halloween season approaches.

Charlie Thigpen  is a horticulturalist and the owner of Garden Gallery in Pepper Place.

One Response to “Goodbye Old Mum”

  1. I could not resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

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