The calendar may say September, and fall is on the horizon, but it still feels like summer. Some gardens are still providing amazing color, while others have little to none.
Many gardeners are tempted to add color now by planting pansies, but it is still too early. September is notorious for hot, humid weather, and if pansies get exposed to hot temperatures, they can get leggy. Early- to mid-October is the best time for planting pansies.
In the meantime, there are many other plants you can add to your garden, like chrysanthemums. While they are perennials, which will come back year after year, many gardeners treat them as annuals. They come in a wide range of colors. If you select pots with both open and closed buds, your “mums” will last for four to eight weeks, provided they don’t get too dry. Asters fall in the same category, in that they also provide good color,
but are often treated as annuals.
Ornamental peppers are also a great addition for fall color, depending on the variety. Some come with purple or green foliage, and the resulting peppers can be red, yellow, orange or purple. You can also make a second planting of marigolds to last until frost, along with some colorful crotons, which are tropical houseplants. Calibrachoa and petunias will tolerate fairly low temperatures before they stop blooming, so consider planting those as well. Depending on where you live and how cold the winter is, they may even overwinter.
If you want to plant something that will last past a frost, there are other options. Dusty miller may not be the most exciting annual in the garden, but it is a survivor. With its almost powdery white foliage, it complements colorful plants well. It can be planted now and will grow strong all fall, winter and spring. Snapdragons can also add color now and will rebloom in early spring.
Flowering kale and cabbage can be planted, along with Swiss chard and giant red mustard, as soon as you can find the plants at local nurseries. While they are very similar plants to their edible counterparts of kale, cabbage, chard and mustard greens, there are several varieties that have been bred more for their ornamental attributes. Although they can be eaten, flowering kale and cabbage are not very tasty. The Swiss chard is good, and the giant red mustard isn’t bad — you just hate to lose that glorious color out of your flower garden to harvest as an edible. Giant red mustard can take a hit if temperatures drop below 25 degrees for extended periods, but they will usually grow back. You can cover them for a day or two when temperatures are going to be too low.
Arkansas Diamond plants
One of the showiest winter greens is Bright Light Swiss Chard. The stems come in an array of bright
colors with yellow, orange or red selections.
Bright Lights Swiss Chard is also an Arkansas Diamond plant. Arkansas Diamond is a program of the Arkansas Green Industry Association (AGIA). The program highlights annual plants that grow well in Arkansas. To be considered an Arkansas Diamond, the plants must also be grown by local growers. A blue diamond logo identifies them as part of the program, which is in its fifth year. This year, fall/winter options have been added into the mix.
Two other cool-season Arkansas Diamonds for 2019 are Violet Wing Cool Wave Pansy and Golden Yellow Cool Wave Pansy. The Cool Wave series of pansies is a newer introduction. These pansies tend to trail or spread out more than other pansies, and two of the best varieties are Violet Wing and Golden Yellow. Violet Wing has a deep purple background with lighter shades of purple and a pure white center. The color combination is amazing. Add some of the Golden Yellow Cool Wave spreading pansies to the planting for some great contrast. They will give you nonstop color from October through late May.
In addition to pansies, there are also violas and Panolas (a cross between a pansy and a viola). Pansies, violas and Panolas come in a wide range of sizes and colors. Violas are a bit more forgiving than pansies about temperatures, so they can be planted earlier in the fall and will typically last longer in the spring/early summer. I still recommend waiting until October to plant these cool-season annuals.
Regardless of what you are planting or when, fertilize your annuals at planting, and follow up throughout the season. We don’t have to fertilize cool-season annuals quite as often as warm-season plants because we don’t have to water daily all winter. But do remember if you are planting now, that water will be critical until they are established and temperatures begin to drop.
Adding color to the landscape adds interest. Make sure you have something blooming in every season.
Janet B. Carson is a freelance writer specializing in gardening.