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Many Fall Color Choices Abound
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Pansies and chrysanthemums may capture the lion's share of the garden market this time of the year, but there are other selections we need to include in our fall and winter landscape.
The first is the flowering kale and cabbage. These ornamentals endure fall and winter with months of color. They are called flowering or ornamental because of the richly colored floral-like foliage. Inner leaves may be red, white, rose or pink against darker green outside leaves.
Many colorful hybrids have found their way to the market in recent years including those with frilly-fringed leaves. Flowering kale usually has the more fringed leaves while cabbage seems wavy or ruffled.
It is best to start from nursery transplants in 4-inch or larger containers. The plants will need exposure to cold to develop their most intense colors, but plant them soon. They are tolerant of freezing weather only when they have had sufficient time to acclimate. Last year I waited until real late to plant mine and a cold front came and killed them rather quickly even though it was in the 60s the next morning.
We want to plant flowering kale and cabbage in October and November except in the most northern regions. In some places, they can also be planted in late winter. These plants get 15 to 18 inches tall and wide, so give room for their growth.
The snapdragon is one of the best plants for combining in beds with kale and cabbage and is probably one of the most beautiful and most overlooked plants for fall color. Snapdragons love those times when night temperatures are in the low 40s and day temperatures reach the low 70s. These temperatures last much of the fall.
Once established in the bed and hardened off, snapdragons can take sub-freezing temperatures. Make sure they stay well-watered during these cold spells. With a layer of pine straw during extra cold spells, they can last for quite some time.
Snapdragons prefer a well-drained, well-prepared, organic-rich bed. Apply a balanced fertilizer and incorporate additional organic matter before planting. Feed monthly with a balanced fertilizer and deadhead to prolong flowering.
What I like best about snapdragons is their bold colors which include red, yellow, pink, burgundy, bronze, orange, white and even two-toned. For the most effective landscape display, mass plant beds in single colors. Last year one of the prettiest displays I have ever seen was at a Natchez Sonic Drive-in.
Don't forget that as these fragrant spikes get larger, they are also good for cut flowers. Sonnets and Liberty that get about 18 to 24 inches tall are great and a new selection from Goldsmith called La Bella has also gained recognition.
Miniature varieties are great for growing in containers which can then easily be moved to protection during cold snaps. Snapdragons not only work well in combination with kale or cabbage - also great container plants - but also with pansies and violas.
Violas or Johnny Jump-ups look just like miniature pansies. In fact, this old fashioned garden favorite is the wild ancestor of the pansy and is called wild pansy. Another common name is Heart's Ease, which originated in England where the brightly colored flowers spring up in the meadows.
Although Johnny Jump-ups resemble miniature pansies with small dainty faces, they are very effective when mass planted as a sea of color. There are many color variations, but most of us think of Johnny Jump-ups as deep violet, yellow and white.
Plants will grow six to eight inches tall and are prolific bloomers that may have dozens of dime-sized flowers at one time. For this reason, they deserve a place in the landscape and in containers on the patio or deck.
Johnny Jump-ups are very cold tolerant and transplant to the garden with ease. Select a site with full sun or partial shade and organically-rich soil. For a really show-stopping display, mix Johnny Jump-ups with small flowered daffodils such as paper whites or campernelles.