How to use annuals for colorful fall gardens
Achieve a bounty of fall color on with pansies, violas and more.
When you think of color in the landscape, annuals immediately come to mind. Although true annuals go through their entire life cycle in one calendar year, there are many biennials and perennials we treat as annuals because they cannot survive Tulsa’s cold winters.
Three of the most popular fall-colored annuals are pansies, violas and panolas, which are a cross between pansies and violas. Pansies are tough and boast moderately sized flowers. Violas are richer in color with a slightly smaller flower structure.
Panolas have the best characteristics of both. Introduce these fall jewels anytime once fall temperatures begin. If planted too early, they will struggle to survive the heat. They provide rich fall color, and they typically survive the winter to bless us again in the spring with even more color. But then, they will likely succumb to the heat by June. They are perfect for plant beds, borders, containers and large groupings of color. Most come in a wide array of color combinations, including yellows, purples, blues and oranges.
But don’t think these are your only fall color options. How about items from the vegetable garden? Pumpkins offer a truly terrific fall color for the landscape. On a smaller scale, ornamental kale and cabbage also make very attractive displays in almost any part of the landscape.
Choosing the right plants for your conditions is important, but if you don’t provide them good soil to grow in, you are wasting your time. Plants depend upon good soil structure for survival by allowing for movement of air, roots, water and nutrients.
Amending plant beds with organic matter is the most beneficial way to improve soil quality. And a soil test is always a good idea, especially if it has been over three years since the last test was conducted. A slow-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, also can be added to the soil before planting.
Proper watering practices and vigilant weeding will keep your annuals healthy and vigorous. Drip irrigation or hand-watering near the roots is the best method as overhead watering is less efficient and can actually damage some of the more fragile flowers. Adding a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch when you place your plants is the best defense against weeds, but inevitably some hand-weeding will be required.
As soon as your annuals take off and are in full bloom, remember the occasional pinching and deadheading might be needed.
Other colorful fall plants that are worth consideration are aster, astilbe, bee balm, cosmos, daisies, goldenrod, lilies, mums, phlox and sedums.
Thank you to Tulsa County Master Gardeners for their expertise in this subject matter. Allen Robinson has been a Master Gardener since 2010.