Fall is here, but cooler weather doesn't have to mean the end of a gorgeous garden. The trick to getting fantastic fall color is choosing plants that suit your climate, thrive in cooler temperatures and look good whether they're dormant or in full bloom.
Depending on where you live, plants may be in bloom all winter long or only until the first freeze hits.
"The farther south you go, the longer the fall growing season is, and in the southernmost and southwest states they can continue to garden with certain plants all through the winter," says Susan Littlefield, horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association.
"I'm in Vermont, and in fall the leaves are changing and the asters are blooming. But in Texas, they're probably just planting their tomatoes for fall harvest."
Littlefield says there are plants all homeowners can choose to give their fall garden a pop of color, whether they live in New York state or southern California. "Lots of cool season annuals and perennials are available in garden centers this time of year," she notes. "They're ready to burst into bloom."
The most colorful fall garden will have a mix of the following.
There are a variety of flowers that can be transplanted from the garden center directly into your fall garden.
Chrysanthemums, commonly referred to as "mums," are popular all over the country. If you live in a cooler climate that normally sees a freeze in late fall, look for a hardy version of the mum — it will be able to handle the cold fall nights.
Pansies, marigolds, snapdragons, calendulas and osteospermums, also called "African daisies," all do well in cooler temperatures. Plant them in early fall to get the most use out of them, as they won't handle the first frost well.
Think outside the box and consider the showier versions of the stuff you'd normally put on your plate.
Ornamental cabbage and kale are great options for your fall garden. Their leaves get more colorful as the weather gets colder, bursting into brilliant reds, pinks, whites and greens.
Many types of vegetables can take cold temperatures too — well into the 20's — so they are great options for some long-lasting color.
"When you're choosing a plant, think about multi-season interest," Littlefield advises. Shrubby dogwoods with colorful stems, such as the red dogwood, can add color to an otherwise bleak fall or winter landscape.
Others, like Harry Lauder's Walking Stick, add visual interest with their unique shapes. When in bloom, Harry Lauder's Walking Stick looks like any other green plant. But when it sheds its leaves, it reveals gorgeous curly branches that make a great cold-weather focal point.
Other popular choices for fall gardens include ornamental grasses and flowering plants like the Black-eyed Susan. Grasses add both color and texture, and flowering plants look great and provide seeds for the birds to eat.
Keep in mind that planting flowers for color in the fall means finding plants that are ready to bloom. To get the most life out of your plants and flowers, Littlefield advises purchasing plants with lots of buds that are about to open instead of those which have just bloomed.