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Grow Long-Blooming Annuals for Fall Color

Did you know that there’s a whole host of annual flowers that remain colorful right up until frost—or even longer in warmer regions? Here are some of our favorite fall combos to duplicate in your own yard. By Doug Jimerson

Go Blue

Who says autumn gardens have to be red, yellow, and orange? In this September border, blue, white, and pink ageratum flowers take center stage in front of a blue wave of annual salvia.

Tip for Success: For instant impact, look for large, ready-to-bloom specimens at your local garden center.

Rely on Marigolds

When it comes to fall color, it’s hard to beat marigolds. These bold beauties offer plenty of flower power, especially in the fall when they bloom like crazy. Here a mixed bed of French marigolds and purple fountain grass puts on a striking fall finale.

Tip for Success: Apply a general-purpose liquid fertilizer every two weeks to keep annuals in top form through the fall.

Keep Foliage in Mind

No need to go “leaf peeping” in the fall when you can view colorful foliage in your own backyard. In this bed, a forest of red-leaved coleus is so bright it puts the nearby maple trees to shame. A ring of orange and yellow zinnias enhances the color show.

Tip for Success: Remove zinnia flowers as they fade to promote new crops of bloom.

Get the Layered Look

Add color and interest to your landscape by mixing late-blooming annuals of different heights together. In this cheerful bed, low-growing zinnias, medium-height coleus, and tall, elegant sunflowers create a seamless tower of color. A planter in the back of the border tops things off with yellow and orange nasturtiums.

Tip for Success: Space annuals close together if you’re planting in the late summer or fall. That way you’ll have a finished look well before cold weather strikes.

Create a Wave of Color

For reliable fall color you can’t beat flowering cabbage and kale. These classic beauties come in shades of gray, green, pink, and purple and are tough enough to tolerate light frosts. In this bed, a fleet of flowering cabbage seems to float over a sea of pink, bronze-leafed, wax begonias.

Tip for Success: Mount large tubs or containers on casters so you can easily move your plants to a protected location during inclement weather.

Try Tropicals

As a general rule, most tropical plants don’t tolerate cold weather. But that doesn’t mean they won’t add weeks of glorious color to your fall garden. In this bed the iridescent purple leaves of heat-loving Persian shield are a rich, eye-catching addition to a bed of chartreuse-and-burgundy coleus.

Tip for Success: When rainfall is scarce, provide additional moisture. Most annuals require about an inch of water per week.

Mix Foliage and Flowers

Lush and leafy foliage plants such as caladium, coleus, Persian shield, rex begonia, and elephant ears provide constant color right up until frost. One of our favorites is copperleaf. This vigorous annual shows off red and bronze variegated leaves that look right at home in a fall garden (in frost free regions it forms a gorgeous hedge). Here, copperleaf is paired with Profusion Pink zinnia.

Tip for Success: Always include nectar-rich flowers such as zinnia, salvia, sweet alyssum, and lantana, to attract migrating butterflies.

Pick One and Grow Them All

Surprise! Would you believe this fantastic garden contains only one type of annual flower? At first glance it certainly looks like there’s a whole medley of different annuals packed together, but when you get closer you see it only contains ageratum in different colors. It’s simple concept that produces big results. You can also do this with petunia, calibrachoa, marigold, zinnia, verbena, sweet alyssum, salvia, and coleus.

Tip for Success: Cover your plants with a light cloth if an early frost threatens.