Garden Variety: Keep landscapes bright with late summer, fall colors

Labor Day weekend is a reminder of the changing of the seasons in the central Midwest, but the growing season is far from over. Take advantage of the shift from summer to fall to freshen up the landscape and garden with late blooming flowers, colorful vegetables and ornamental grasses.

Mums are the most popular option for adding fall color to the landscape because of their versatility, range of colors, large number of flowers per plant and long bloom period. Transplant them into containers for porch and patio displays, or add them to the landscape amongst other annuals and perennials. Select from a range of reds, pinks, purples, yellows, bronzes, and whites. Mums that are at garden centers right now are full of blooms or buds that will open soon. The blooms last for several weeks.

Mums are winter hardy in northeast Kansas but are often treated as an annual flower because they can be difficult to establish in the landscape.

For other perennial options, consider asters, coneflowers, coreopsis, helenium (sneezeweed) and sedum. These are all reliably winter-hardy.

Asters have a wide range of color like mums. The color range for coneflower has expanded over the last several years from the original purple (often described as more pink than purple) to reds, yellows, and whites. Coreopsis and helenium are yellow to gold. Sedum is a group of multiple species of plants, but the tall varieties most commonly planted in fall have clusters of tiny pink blossoms at the top of silvery green stems.

Celosia, strawflower, zinnias are annuals but their blooms can likely be enjoyed for a few more months depending on when freezing temperatures arrive. Their blossoms can also be dried for use in arrangements.

Celosias and strawflowers are red, yellow and pink. Zinnias are available in those colors plus white, cream and orange.

Vegetable plants are increasingly popular in fall arrangements also. Look for cabbage, chard and kale to mix with flowers in large containers or landscape plantings. Plant arugula and leaf lettuce from seed to add ruffled textures to the front of pots or landscape beds.

Ornamental grasses are clumping grass species selected for color and seed heads.

Many of the ornamental grasses on the market today are selected varieties of Kansas natives that are extremely hardy and offer a range of color and texture options. Try little bluestem, prairie dropseed, Indian grass or switch grass.

Little bluestem and prairie dropseed grow to 2 to 3 feet with their flower stems and are good options for fall containers or landscape plantings. For little bluestem, try selected ornamental varieties such as Prairie Blues or Standing Ovation.

For prairie dropseed use the species or the dwarf selection Tara.

Indian grass is too large for a container but a great option for the landscape. Look for Sioux Blue, Indian Steel and Llano.

Switch grass is one of the most popular native grasses for summer and fall color and texture in the landscape. Try Shenandoah, Dallas Blues, Prairie Fire, Northwind, Cheyenne Sky or others.

• Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.