After a long, hot summer, autumn always refreshes our creative spirits. It's time to look for low maintenance plants that thrive in cooler weather, such as ornamental cabbage and kale... the gems of the autumn garden. When creating containers, make it easy by sticking to limited colors and plant palettes. Begin with annual ornamental cabbage & kale in green and white, or purple and burgundy colors. Add a pop of color or texture with cool season pansies, flowering perennials or add height with ornamental grasses.
Ornamental flowering cabbages and kale are valued for their green and white or purple and pink foliage--not their flowers. Ornamental cabbage and kale look like their close edible relatives and are the same species, Brassica oleracea. Although the ornamental variety is also edible, they aren't as tasty as their cousins because they have been bred for their looks, not flavor.
How can you tell the difference? Cabbages and kale are prized primarily as colorful additions to gardens where they are appreciated for their large rosettes of green, white, pink or purple leaves. Technically, ornamental cabbage and kale are all kales (Kale produce leaves in a tight rosettes and cabbages produce heads.)
• Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana): Pansies are classic, cool weather, flowering plants that are loved by almost everyone. The sweet faces are available in spring or fall in solid or bi-colored tones of deep-purple, blue, yellow, orange, wine, light lavender and white. Also, look for Winter Pansies or 'Icicle Pansies.' They are bred for their ability to overwinter when planted in the fall. Hybridized for cold climates, this tough new breed is guaranteed to survive even the harshest winters. Plant in fall and you will enjoy blooms until the snow flies and again in early spring.
• Asters are the superstars of the autumn garden. The multi-flowered asters are daisy-like and are enjoyed in fall for the masses of small light blue-purple, deep lavender and violet-pink flowers.
• Gloriosa Daisies (Rudbeckia hirta): Cheerful, daisy-like flowers with sunny-yellow, golden orange or burgundy, flowers. The flower size is larger than the perennial Black-eyed Susan and have single and semi-double blossoms. Look for 'Indian Summer' (yellow-gold flowers); 'Autumn Colors' (yellow, orange and burgundy flowers); 'Prairie Sun' (blooms in yellow with golden halo and green center) and 'Cherry Brandy' (red-burgundy with double petals.) Treat as annuals in our zone 5.
• Mums: These classic, autumn flowering plants are available in almost every color and size. These budding pincushions are a tidy and make an easy replacement for overgrown, summer containers.
Flowering Perennials: Tip: Use perennials in fall containers now but plant them in the garden before the ground freezes.
• Japanese Anemone: A fall-blooming perennial that flowers from late summer to early fall with delicate, white or pink flowers that float above mounds of lobed, green foliage.
• Sedum: Hardy, succulent-like sedum in many sizes, heights, and leaf colors. A few of our favorites: ('Autumn Joy' (rosy-red flowers and medium-green leaves); 'Autumn Charm' (pink flowers and light green leaves with a buttery-white band on the edges); 'Matrona' (pale pink flowers, purple stems and attractive blue-gray leaves.); 'Angelina' (star-shaped flowers in summer and creeping, chartreuse to golden-yellow leaves in spring/summer. Foliage turns a golden orange in autumn.)
• White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosa 'Chocolate'): This unique, dark-leaved perennial blooms with sprays of white flowers in fall. It is native to North America and is deer resistant.
Ornamental Grass: Ornamental grasses add movement to autumn containers.
• Burgundy Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Rubrum'): This is an annual grass in colder climates like our zone 5 and will not survive our cold winters. The deep burgundy foliage and wispy, tawny tassels make the perfect pairing with ornamental cabbages and kale in autumn .
• Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium): The blue-green foliage puts on a show in fall when it changes from yellow to burnt orange. As a native to Eastern North America, it's a perennial, warm season grass with attractive, silver-green foliage in spring and summer.