Below is an article I recently wrote for my workplace newsletter. Although a bit premature, the subject hopefully be timely soon as we seek relief, even if only in the planning stages, from the current heat spell here in North Texas! There are a few duplications of tips and photos from former posts, but you may find the info worthy all in one place. -Cindy
While the first true day of the fall season isn’t until September 22nd, we can begin thinking about autumn plantings now as the days grow slightly shorter and the evenings slowly begin to cool down. The slightly shorter days and cooler evenings allow for our current landscapes to recover from the summer heat and also provide a better atmosphere for new additions to survive.
If, at the time of this article, we are still in the 95+ degree temps, Zinnias may be one of the better fall flower choices to plant as you begin transitioning your landscape to an autumn feel. Zinnias enjoy full sun and can tolerate the dry, summer months of Texas, but begin to look much more vibrant as autumn approaches. I would suggest, if possible, that you purchase tints of yellow, orange and/or burgundy Zinnias on clearance at some of the larger nurseries and “nurse” them back to health (perhaps provide a little more shade) in time for an early fall display. Zinnias look nice planted en masse in pots and in ground. Keep in mind they are annuals and will not survive winter.
One of the most exciting discoveries I have found in the plant world lately is the Firecracker Flower, otherwise known as Crossandra. While Crossandra isn’t strictly a fall flower as it will bloom continuously under the right circumstances, its vivid tangerine blooms radiate with hints of Halloween and Thanksgiving! I personally think this plant is one of the best you can use for autumn décor – inside and out. Crossandra can be a little finicky in that it prefers part sun and enjoys moist soil, however this could be the perfect environment of a planter on a sheltered porch or deck. In the cooler fall months, providing a little more than half-day sunlight may be just fine. While I have planted Crossandra in ground with success, I eventually transplanted it to a pot prior to the first freeze as it will likely not survive our winters in North Texas. Thus, it is best to treat Crossandra as a tropical perennial and move it indoors to a sunny window during the cold. Regarding care of this plant, although it prefers moist soil you should ensure it has good drainage and that its roots do not sit in water.
Then there is the reliable Chrysanthemum, which is always a good choice for fall. Adding a pot or two of this perennial to your doorstep or patio, along with a pumpkin or two, is sure to warm up your home during the cooler months. Incidentally while “mums” are traditionally associated with fall, they actually bloom in late spring as well – offering two seasons of color. Thus, when the long-lasting blooms of mums are spent in winter, you may wish to place the pots in a holding area – keeping them watered and within ample sunlight until you are ready to display them again early next year. Of course, if you have a spare area in your yard to plant mums in ground, they will provide you with blooms twice per year and mounds of greenery during the barren summer months. Mums enjoy full to mostly full sun. While easy to grow, pests and diseases such as aphids and wilt can affect the plant. Insects can be easily remedied with horticultural oil and in the case of disease, the good news is Chrysanthemums are abundant in the fall and relatively inexpensive to replace.
Of course, when we think of fall foliage we immediately envision the brilliant yellow, orange, and red hues of turning trees. However, the leaves of a particular annual can provide these hues to your landscape on a much smaller scale as well: Coleus. Coleus can be found in a wide variety of colors and multi-colors, leaf shapes and sizes, and growth habits. Personally, I enjoy mixing two to three complementary color and size variations of Coleus in one container to create a stimulating, paisley-like display. As with the flower varieties mentioned above, Coleus, too, can be grown spring through fall, in ground or in containers, and its predominate leaf color patterns are suggestive of fall. In addition, variegations of Coleus can beautifully introduce chartreuse, mauve and magenta into the traditional rich colors of autumn. Although Coleus reliably blooms, the spikes of tiny lavender flowers are far secondary to the beauty of its leaves. Pinching the buds will promote healthier and fuller leafed plants. Coleus prefers most to part shade (dappled shade is best), although newer varieties have been engineered to withstand more sun. Coleus likes moist but well-drained soil. Of the mint family, Coleus is extremely easy to maintain and has few pests but is considered a tender annual that will quickly decline once temperatures consistently dip in the 50’s.
One of the more unique ways to add a little autumn to your landscape is to introduce Ornamental Peppers into it. While I admit, I went out on a limb to name this article, peppers themselves are indeed technically considered fruit (as are tomatoes, squash, etc.)! Again, it is the traditional fall colors and harvest time of the fruit that provide the autumn character to this plant. While you can find peppers in hues of purple, most varieties produce yellow, orange and red fruit with transitions in between. As with edible peppers, ornamental peppers enjoy sun and can tolerate drier conditions than the other plants listed in this article. Adding a pot or two of ornamental peppers to a sunny patio would indeed create a festive environment to your entertainment site for the fall. As depicted below, last year I added a couple of bright red pepper plants to my asparagus fern basket that was receiving more sunlight as the months passed and ta-da, instant autumn ambience.
I hope you choose to incorporate one or more of the above easy autumn-izing ideas into your home or workspace in the coming months!
Until next time,