Best Flowers For Fall
The final flowers of the season are as precious as the very first. And the show need not end when cold weather sets in. You can plant chrysanthemums, pansies, and more to light up your beds as the leaves change color and the days get shorter.
Longest lived: Pick the mums with blossoms that resemble little dahlias, because the new petals on this type emerge from the center of the blossoms for up to a month while old petals fade at the back, out of sight. What’s the result? Blossoms that last and last!
Buy the best mums: Choose plants with full buds that have just begun to open. And water them regularly. Most potted mums are so root-bound that they dry out quickly and need water every day.
Keep them as perennials: Mums you buy this year will grow and bloom in your garden each fall in all but the coldest climates. For best success, get early bloomers for the north, midseason ones for USDA Hardiness Zones 6 and 7, and late bloomers if your first frost doesn’t come until mid-November. (Check plant tags for bloom times.) But don’t plant them in the garden now: They may not root well and could succumb to winter cold. Instead, when they start to fade move the pots to a cool place, such as an unheated garage and don’t trim them back. Water them occasionally throughout winter. When little tufts of green emerge from the base of the plants in early spring, prune back the dead stems and set the plants out in the garden. Then they will grow into vigorous plants that can survive subsequent winters in champion style.
Pansies bloom in the fall, hang out through the winter, and then kick into bloom again in the spring. Many of today’s pansies survive winter as far north as Zone 4, if you plant them early enough to be well rooted by the time the soil freezes and if you start with a super-hardy variety.
Cold-weather champions: Varieties in the ‘Sky’ series lead the pack in winter hardiness; they’re followed closely by the ‘Delta’ series. In the North, these varieties may have special tags labeling them as Second Season pansies. This means that they have what it takes to bloom in the fall, withstand extreme winter conditions, and then rebloom in the spring.
Plant early: Pansies stop developing new roots when the temperature of the soil drops below 45 degrees F, so in cold climates, it’s important to get seedlings into the ground as soon as you can.
Mulch well: You can further enhance the hardiness of autumn-planted pansies by mulching over them with 2 inches of very loosely packed pine needles or clean straw as soon as winter begins to rage.
All winter wonders: From Zone 7 southward, gardeners have longed for pansies that bloom through the winter instead of just sitting there, waiting for the first whiffs of spring. Small-flowered violas, also known as Johnny-jump-ups or miniature pansies are the answer. The ‘Sorbet’ and ‘Penny’ series violas have shown outstanding resiliency in winter field trials from North Carolina to Texas. Try the aptly named ‘Sorbet Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’: Its blossoms actually change color as they mature, starting out white and magically changing to blue.
An autumn perennial
Among the many asters that bloom at the end of the season, ‘Alma Potschke’ New England aster stands out for its summer-into-fall bounty of bright pink daisy-like blossoms. Their color is vivid without shouting and warm without being hot, which produces a dazzling display that brightens cool fall days. They bloom from late August or early September through October. In Perennial All-Stars, author and aster fan Jeff Cox notes that ‘Alma Potschke’ is “one aster that does not need pinching to be covered with flowers literally from head to toe.” Cox does recommend digging it up and dividing it every other year or so to keep the clumps from dying out in the Garden Center.
Where: Zones 4 to 9
Dimensions: 3 feet high by 3 feet wide plant; 2-inch blossoms
Site: Full sun to light shade
Soil: Slightly moist, slight acidic
Companions: Mix with mums (Chrysanthemum X morifolium), azure monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii), hardy ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) or azure sage (Salvia azurea).