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Planting Fall Flowers for Autumn Colors

Marigolds and Other Annuals as Inexpensive Options

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Picture of red salvia plants.

Picture of red salvia plants.

David Beaulieu

When you contemplate incorporating autumn colors in your landscaping, do not forget about planting fall flowers. People normally think of trees or shrubs with colorful autumn leaves (or perhaps perennials) when they ponder harvest-time displays, but annuals are an inexpensive alternative. You may associate annuals with late spring (everyone gets the planting bug in spring), but fall planting is the mark of the true landscaping enthusiast, who begrudges not even tender annuals such as marigolds a spot on the autumn landscape.

Growing fall flowers in the garden will enhance landscaping that is already graced by fall foliage trees. But if your landscaping lacks such trees altogether, planting fall flowers takes on even greater importance. The color display put on by these annuals and perennials will supplement the non-living autumn decorations in your yard, be they carved pumpkins and cornstalks, or witches and scarecrows.

But exactly when should you be planting fall flowers? You certainly shouldn't wait for autumn, itself, unless you live in a warm climate. Doing so would minimize your enjoyment of the them. On the other hand, even in the North it's usually too hot to plant through the first part of August. So the window of opportunity for planting can be quite small.

Making matters worse is the fact that there's no set date I can give you for planting, even for particular regions. Rather, it's something that has to be played by ear. Some summers, a rainy period arrives in mid-to-late August, providing the perfect opportunity for planting. Other summers, a late August planting would still subject your transplants to excessive heat-stress, and it would be better to wait until early September.

Many homeowners think that planting fall flowers necessarily means limiting yourself to hardy species -- plants that will survive the first frost. Such hardy plants are, indeed, useful. In the following pages I mention mums, ornamental kale, flowering cabbages and dusty miller, for instance, all of which will provide the landscape with color well after frosty weather arrives; another good choice is Montauk daisies. But don't be afraid to mix in some tender annuals, too. Their contribution will be brief, but spectacular.

Marigolds are a good example, because they bloom in the classic autumn colors: orange, yellow, gold, etc. The two most common groups of marigolds are the French marigolds (Tagetes patula) and the African marigolds (Tagetes erecta). In each case the common names are certainly misnomers, as the marigolds are New World plants, native mainly to Central and South America. Just another example of why we use scientific names when referring to plants.

From a financial perspective, you may be questioning the wisdom of planting such tender plants as marigolds as fall flowers. Isn't it a waste of money to plant something that will be dead in a few weeks? It would be a waste of money, if you were getting them at springtime prices. But I'm referring to annuals that can be gotten inexpensively, which is the subject of Page 2....

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