Green thumbs mourn the end of summer as their lovely gardens begin to wilt and wither. But there are some plant species that will provide plenty of color for your fall garden, giving you a few extra weeks of outdoor beauty.
These five plants will provide color, texture, and life to your garden before the winter doldrums settle in. Most can be purchased as mature plants well into the fall. Or you could get them started in spring or summer if you prefer to plant from seed.
Chrysanthemums (or mums) come in a wide variety of shapes and colors. There are over 40 different species of mum and literally thousands of cultivars. While traditionally yellow, you can find mums in white, purple, red, orange, pink, and white.
The classic mum looks a bit like a daisy with a yellow center and colorful outer petals. But that’s just one variety. The quilled bloom mum has long, thin petals with a unique spiky appearance. Pompon mums have a globe-shaped flower with short petals. And spider mums have elongated, narrow petals that resemble spider legs — although they’re much prettier.
When selecting mums for your garden, look for flowers labeled “hardy” or “garden” mums. These will last longer in your fall garden instead of wilting as soon as the weather cools off. Make sure to plant them before the end of August to give their roots time to develop before the first freeze. Mulch well!
Purple Fountain Grass
Purple fountain grass is a lovely, fluffy grass species that will add texture and color throughout the fall. Its soft purple makes a great accent for other bright fall flowers. This clumping, ornamental grass makes an excellent border. Use it to cushion transitions near fences and patios.
Plant purple fountain grass in the spring. Make sure it gets plenty of sun and has well-draining soil. This plant is drought-tolerant, so don’t overwater! If your winter temps don’t dip below 20F, your fountain grass could come back next year. If you get cold winters, you can replant each spring, or plant it in containers and bring them inside in late winter.
The fall peppers on this plant stand upright for bright pops of red, yellow, orange, and purple. Although the peppers are tasty-looking, they’re more for aesthetics than eating. They won’t hurt you if you eat them, but they don’t taste particularly good — just very spicy.
Plant ornamental peppers in full sun to prevent them from getting leggy and providing scant fruit. Make sure the soil drains well, and add a rich compost layer. Pinch off the stems when they reach 6” high to encourage bushy growth, rather than height.
You can also grow ornamental peppers in containers indoors, as long as they are in front of a bright window. But water slowly and don’t let the pot sit in a saucer of water, or the roots will rot!
Black-eyed Susans are a popular wildflower with yellow, daisy-shaped petals and dark centers. These flowers bloom from June to October, displaying bright color through the beginning of fall. And they provide end-of-season food to hungry butterflies and bees.
Black-eyed Susans can grow to over 3 feet tall, so they bring some attractive height to the fall garden. Unlike some plants, these wildflowers are easy to grow from seed. Start them inside a few weeks after the last frost, or plant the seeds directly into the garden in spring. As long as they have plenty of sun and well-drained soil, these flowers should thrive. But make sure they get plenty of air circulation and water them directly on the soil, rather than from above. A cramped, damp environment can lead to powdery mildew on the leaves.
Cut Black-eyed Susans back after their summer blooms wilt to encourage that second fall flowering.
Also known as ornamental kale, this plant is known for its colorful foliage in red, purple, pink, and white. Unlike the kale at the grocery store, this version is grown for its lovely appearance rather than its flavor. But its hearty leaves make a great backdrop for fall flowers!
For the best autumn color, flowering kale should be planted by the beginning of July if starting from seed. They need light to sprout, so set them on top of the soil in small individual pots for 3 to 5 days. They’ll then need 10 – 14 weeks to grow to maturity. If you prefer to buy a plant instead of starting from seed, look for a larger plant. They may not grow much once planted in the ground.
These plants need cool weather to develop their best colors. So it’s best to grow them in fall. They are hardy to temps well below freezing, and they may make it through the winter. To help them last, make sure they’re well-watered. Flowering kale doesn’t like to dry out too much.
If you select the right fall plants, you can have greenery and color throughout the autumn. The life of some plants can be extended even further if you cover them to protect them from frost. For frost alerts, download an app like Weatherbug to receive a notice if frost is in the forecast!
Once you’ve selected and planted your fall foliage, you’ll be able to enjoy your colorful yard from your porch or patio for longer than ever before.