Plant of the Week: Fall Flowers
Fall is a riot of color in the garden, with tree leaves raining down and the late season perennials such as chrysanthemums and asters punctuating the scene with hues of the season. Though annuals are usually thought of as creatures of the summer, a number put on their best display with the cooler days of the fall. As the growing season draws to a close now is a good time to look at some of these seasonal standouts.
Celosias – or cockscombs, as they’re popularly called – are old-timey annuals that haunted our grandmother’s garden like a bad dream. Once you got them started they would reseed and make their presence known late in the season with the peculiar brain-shaped heads that could be a foot or more wide. While interesting, these big heads were hard to incorporate into the landscape. The plumed cockscomb blend in much better but can still create a powerful punch in the border.
Sakata Seed Company has developed a new plumed celosia called ‘Dragon’s Breath’ that is outstanding if you wish to shock the design snobs who think the garden should be painted only in shades of pastel. The red-purple leaves and flower plumes on this 30 inch tall plant add a dramatic touch to the late season color. That doesn’t mean they aren’t in flower earlier in the year, for they are, but by late season these workhorse plants have attained a stature that is impossible to ignore. It is seed grown and is best planted in full sun.
Several salvias have a strong impact in the fall garden, the most striking being the pineapple sage and the Mexican sage. Both of these plants are semi-woody perennials in mild, tropical regions but in the frost belt they are best treated as cutting grown annuals. Pineapple sage, especially the yellow foliage selection called “Golden Delicious,” grows 3 or more feet tall and wide and is topped by bright red spikes of flowers in late summer and fall. Mexican sage is even larger, often getting to 5 feet tall and wide with grayish foliage and masses of purple and white flowers on slender spikes.
Both of these sages are natural short day plants, so in the summer their foliage will have to carry their space in the garden. They are best suited for full sun conditions and can be used in ground beds or large containers. Fortunately, both species have attractive foliage and harmonize with other summer annuals that are in flower. Plants can be pinched back as often as needed up until the first of August to ensure dense branching and to control size, but after that date let them grow to ensure good flowering.
“Mona Lavender” Plectranthus is a cutting grown annual that makes a nice cool weather addition to the garden and comes in a more diminutive size at about 16 inches tall. The foliage of this plant is a glossy, dark purple-green color but it is the terminal spikes of lavender (purple) that make it a real standout. It flowers during the summer, but something about fall makes it shine. It is best in good soil with good light but not necessarily full sun.
These bold and brassy plants can add a dimension of color to the fall garden that more staid perennials can’t provide. Plant them in masses or as scattered specimens to make the end of season garden pop.
For more information about horticulture or to see other Plant of the Week columns, visit Extension's Web site, www.uaex.uada.edu, or contact your county extension agent. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.
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