Nothing says “fall” like mums!

Annuals are great for providing color all summer long—they’re really the workhorses of the plant world. But as with anything, annuals have their season, and if the flowers on your patio or deck are looking worn and you’re ready for something new, consider a few great options that will give your pots color for the rest of autumn—and even all winter long.

The quintessential fall flower has to be the chrysanthemum. Mums are great for fall color; they’re available in just about every color of the rainbow, need very little maintenance, and can be planted out in your yard after they’re done blooming for you to enjoy next year. When shopping for mums, avoid the temptation to buy them in full bloom. Mums only bloom once a year, and while their blooms last a long time, you’ll enjoy the flowers much longer if you buy plants just starting to show color.

‘Violet Wing’ Cool Wave pansy

A second must-have flower for fall is the classic winter pansy, but this year, there’s a new twist on the old standby: a cold-hardy trailing version! Initially debuted last fall, Cool Wave pansies are an aggressive trailing variety that spread or trail to two feet or more and are hardy to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. They need no deadheading and minimal watering once regular rains arrive, so they’re as low-maintenance as you’ll find. Last fall, I planted some in hanging baskets to try for the winter; starting in September, they bloomed until mid-June this year—and they might have gone longer if I wasn’t simply tired of looking at them!

Cool Wave pansies in hanging baskets or individual pots are now available at Vander Giessen’s—they prefer cooler weather, so they’re usually a couple of weeks later than the first mums you’ll see out for fall.

A third broader category for fall planting is what I’ll call “foliage.” Most ornamental grasses are just coming into their peak season and many make great container plants. ‘Burgundy Bunny’ fountain grass is a nice dwarf variety with red-tinged blades; its soft, fluffy seed heads are reminiscent of a bunny tail. This variety is a perennial that can be planted out in your flowerbeds either this fall or next spring when you’re ready to plant your summer annuals.

One tender but certainly more striking grass is ‘Fireworks’ fountain grass. Hardy only to 20 degrees, it may not overwinter, but it’s certainly worth planting for its glorious fall color. Like ‘Burgundy Bunny,’ it displays showy seed heads this time of year. Most striking, though, is its fluorescent pink-, purple- and white-striped blades.

‘Fireworks’ fountain grass with heather

If grasses aren’t your thing, consider another tender perennial that’s new this year: ‘Inferno’
coprosma. Commonly called “mirror plant,” its super-glossy leaves look almost artificial. With splashes of color in shades of red, yellow, white and green, the foliage of ‘Inferno’ will coordinate well with almost any fall container planting. Keep in mind, though, that like ‘Fireworks’ fountain grass, coprosma may not overwinter should temperatures dip into the teens. Of course, these plants will survive if given sufficient protection from cold; shelter them on a south-facing front porch or in a garage during a cold snap and enjoy them in the garden all next year!

September is a season of transitions, and if you’re tired of looking at your weary summer annuals, give your pots a fresh burst of color for fall and winter. With an hour of planting and minimal watering or deadheading, you can have beautiful containers or hanging baskets to brighten up your porch for months to come!