Mum’s the word — but not the only one

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 20, 2017

 Eckert’s Greenhouse in Sterling Heights has a wide variety of fall plants for sale this season.

Eckert’s Greenhouse in Sterling Heights has a wide variety of fall plants for sale this season.

Photo provided by Cindi Lloyd, of Eckert’s Greenhouse

METRO DETROIT — If you haven’t noticed, it’s fall. 

If the cooler temperatures or mid-September date on the calendar didn’t tip you off, no doubt the innumerable mums popping up at retailers all over town likely did.

But there’s more to autumnal planting than just hardy mums — a lot more, according to flower experts like Karl Eckert, of Eckert’s Greenhouse in Sterling Heights.

“Definitely mums (are the most popular this season), but there are many other plants that add color,” he said. “Pansies, heuchera, ornamental kale and cabbage, purple fountain grass, sedum, succulents, asters, rudbeckia, geraniums, lysimachia, and sweet potato vine — as the lime color (for) a good contrast.”

It’s a long list, with some faring better than others as temperatures really drop toward mid-October. The plants that can withstand those cooler temperatures — and maybe even a light frost — aren’t necessarily hardy, as many of us have come to believe.

“Hardy has nothing to do with fall color. It’s a term used for distinguishing between garden mums, which are treated as an annual, and perennial mums. Most perennial mums are referred to as hardy in that they should come back the following year,” Eckert explained. “If you mean hardy as in cold tolerance, most of the plants will last with temperatures above the 40s.”

Brian Sroka, co-owner of Greenhouse Gardens in St. Clair Shores, said the pansies come in second to mums when it comes to fall plant sales at his store.

“Mums are just the traditionally time-honored plant to signal fall, and since pansies are on the market in the spring too, I think people don’t realize they do well as a fall plant,” Sroka said. “We’ve always kept a few pansies around here in bowl combinations through the summer. You trim them back, but they bounce right back in the fall. And there’s some really beautiful colors too, as far as pansies go.”

In fact, he said that pansies beat mums in popularity down in the South. But Sroka has high hopes for a new addition to his fall shelves: Sunfinity sunflower plants. 

“They’re not as hardy as some of these other plants, but they’ll go into mid-October. I’ve got them in stock right now, and they’re new to North America,” he said. “It’s a reblooming annual sunflower, so it’s not the typical one-and-done you get with sunflowers.”

Pair those, or mums or even purple and pink asters, with some tall ornamental grasses in a pot for a mix of heights and interest, he said. 

For those who want to tuck their fall perennials into flower beds so they can return season after season, though, Eckert said that right about now is a great time — so the plants have plenty of time to establish sturdy roots — or even earlier, if you’re looking ahead to next year.

“Spring and summer is a great time to consider fall colors. Many plants, for instance, the heuchera, have summer flowers, but it’s the leaves that will add to the fall landscape,” he said, adding that plants going into the ground should have extra soil and mulch at the “crown” for winter protection.

“Most plants, be it annual or perennial, will carry their color until there’s a frost.”