Cool Colors in the Fall Garden

Colors like reds, golden yellows, and cheerful oranges dominate our fall gardens.  These warmer colors are synonymous with fall.  But as summer winds down, many of us aren’t ready to let go of the riot of summer color and give way to fall’s muted reds and golds. Cool colors are a counterpoint to the rusty hues typical of fall – think blue, soft pink, and purple. Fall color on foliage is lovely, and I really can’t say enough about ornamental grasses, but the pollinators agree- we still want flowers! Luckily, there are plenty of plants out there that deliver quite a punch late in the season. Here are some plants to try in your yard for contrast - bold, cool colors to punch up your golden fall garden.

Bonus- most garden centers and nurseries are marking prices down by now, so you can score these garden energizers at a discount!

Perennials(plants that die back in winter but return the next growing season)

Asters (Aster species and cultivars) are the quintessential fall perennial, mounding in waves of blue, purple, pink and white at the end of the season. Most asters are hardy to zones 4 or even 3, and make a great show late in the season.

Airy stems and tiny blooms of Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) look great massed together. Grey-blue and deep purple colors hold up against the yellows and oranges of surrounding plants.

The larger garden sedums, or stonecrop (Hylotelephium spectabile and hybrids) are a staple in the fall garden. These plants emerge fairly early in the summer and act as great fillers while other plants are on display. Their bold, waxy foliage is pretty all on its own, whether you’re growing plants with clear green leaves, variegated white, or hues of purple. As many other plants in the garden fade back, sedum blooms begin to color up and show off. Vibrant pink is an unusual and welcome color in the fall garden.

Plant care: Many fall-blooming plants can get leggy during the growing season and topple over when their blooms are at their peak. Two ways to handle this problem: support the plants by staking or pinch them back mid-summer. Asters and hardy mums can be sheared back by 1/3 in late June – they’ll thank you by growing more compact and put on a great show in autumn. Taller stonecrops, like “Autumn Joy” and “Matrona”, do well to be staked, tied back, or planted near some supportive neighbors, like shorter grasses and rounded perennials. These sedums have such great blooms that the extra effort is worth avoiding the disappointment of a split stem just when your garden really needs a blast of color.

Annuals(plants that can’t make it through our winters, or finish their life cycle in one growing season)

Annual Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) – this plant is hardy to around zone 8, and can take some cooler nights. The electric blue-purple on its fuzzy stems catches your eye and contrasts with yellows and oranges around it.

Zinnias (Zinna cultivars), large and small- zinnia’s bright colors blaze like a Latin festival in your garden. While these plants can succumb to powdery mildew late in the season, there are a few tricks to make them worth your while. Plant tall ones far back in a distant bed and you can’t notice the leaves until you’re up close. Seek out mildew-resistant varieties and consider the air flow around your plantings. Cut back and clean out foliage at the end of the season and dispose of it so no spores are held in the garden.

Enjoy these fall beauties as your garden slowly rests from summer’s abundance. Their cooler blues and pinks will play a starring role against the classic fall colors of pumpkin orange and golden yellow in surrounding foliage.

Fall Container Gardens- Shopping

At any garden center right now, next to the pumpkins, there are so many options for fall container garden plants.  While pansies and mums are the most common choices, you don't have to be limited.

Ornamental versions of cold-hardy edible plants offer a range of color, texture, and size for your fall container garden.  Consider swiss chard, mustard greens, kale, cabbage, and herbs like sage.

Be discerning when you're shopping!  Some fall plants have been on the garden center floor for a while, so check the roots!  Carefully slide the plants out of the pots and check for healthy roots.  Make sure the 6-packs of pansies have six healthy little plants in there!  The season doesn't last all that long in Iowa, but it's worth having healthy plants to enjoy.

Loading the cart with fall annuals

Loading the cart with fall annuals

Little helpers with fall annuals

Little helpers with fall annuals

This is a great activity to include children in.  Our kids got into counting out the plants, looking for matching colors, and checking to make sure the plants were healthy.  They carried plants to the cart and tried different arrangements for the fall container garden at home.  With so much fall foliage to choose from, you can have awesome containers without relying on the ubiquitous mums!

So many fall annual choices for fall container gardens!

So many fall annual choices for fall container gardens!