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Has the heat of summer left your flower gardens and containers looking scraggly and tired?  After these last months of heat and drought, we are all ready to refresh our tired flower beds and planters with the rich shades of fall.  Extending color throughout our season is easy with the wide variety of cool-season crops available. 

Garden mums are the very essence of any fall planting.  Try a mass planting of one or two colors for maximum effect.  For a more diverse look, plant a group of mums in front of some ornamental grass with other fall annuals such as pansies or kale as accents.  Mums also make great container plants.  Simply pop one into a clay pot for a fresh look, or combine them with trailing vines and complementary annuals for a more decorative container garden. 

Garden mums like six hours of sun and well-drained soil.  Water thoroughly and never allow them to wilt.  Mums are heavy feeders so fertilize and water regularly up to when the ground freezes.  Mulch well in late fall, due to the fact that not all mum varieties are winter hardy in Montana.

Pansies, one of the heralds of spring, make a comeback in fall.  You can select the traditional purple and yellow, or the more unique shades of orange and black.  Again, a mass planting or containers full of only pansies are very eye-catching.  However, if you like to mix it up, pansies are an excellent accent to mums and add wonderful fall color to container gardens and flower beds. 

They will tolerate temperatures down to 25 degrees.  Remember to water and fertilize regularly to keep these gentle bloomers looking their best.

Flower blossoms are not the only means to gain interest in your fall plantings. Think texture, too.  Ornamental cabbage and kale with their nested leaves of green, white and purple offer unique textures as well as visual appeal.  They are beautiful in flower beds and are especially nice in pots close to the house where their gorgeous color variations can best be appreciated.  They are classics in the fall garden, adding intriguing colors and texture. Ornamental kale and cabbage need full sun and do best in the cooler temperatures of fall.

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Having tall plumes or short blades, ornamental grasses are an excellent plant for any fall garden.  Grasses can add a great deal to the texture, color, motion and even sound of the garden. Taller specimens can be used as a backdrop or a focal point while the shorter varieties can be used as borders and accents. The reddish plumes of purple fountain grass or the tufts of carex grass will soften and add movement to plantings.  They can be used as individual specimens, in mass plantings or as border plants.  Many of them are also a good source of dried materials for arrangements.

Perennials are still available to plant this fall for something new now and a burst of color next spring.  Select fall-blooming perennials such as rudbeckia (black-eyed susans) or echinacea (coneflower) for a promise of next season’s color now.


Jim Gainan is President of Gainan's Flowers and Garden Center in Billings, MT.

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