Mums and asters - mainstays for flower color in a fall garden. Gardeners can plant them now as they plan and plant for spring color.

Here we are, mid-October. The folks at Luthy Botanical Gardens in Peoria, Ill., just planted hundreds of chrysanthemums for the annual mum show.


On the north end of town, bees lazily fly from aster to aster in one of Nancy Crawford's flowerbeds. The asters, of course, are interspersed among the mums.


But this time of year always represents an official moment of schizophrenia in garden-dom. Avid home gardeners, like Crawford, and garden managers, like Bob Streitmatter with Luthy Botanical, are planting for fall color and spring blooms.


Fall color


Mums and asters - mainstays for flower color in a fall garden. Gardeners can plant them now as they plan and plant for spring color.


"But there are more than chrysanthemums and asters for fall blooms," Crawford said.


The islands of gardens surrounding her home are a colorful testimony to the fact that fall color is not just for trees. Although she's in the midst of cleaning up the garden ­­–– bringing in houseplants and putting away garden ornaments (as for perennials, Crawford says, "If it's brown, cut it down.") –– her garden is awash in vibrant perennials, annuals and annuals that flower like perennials.


Asters in white, pink and purple blend in among mums with rich traditional fall colors that started blooming in September. The dahlias are featured in yellow with dark foliage, deep red, salmon and white.


Her annuals –– snapdragons in delicate pinks and bright-colored zinnias, featured in both miniature and giant –– make for more color. The zinnias will probably bloom until the first frost, Crawford says. The purple aconitum, also known as monkshood, is just starting to bloom and she suspects they will do so until November.


And, for Crawford, the texture and color of foliage of plants, such as lambs' ear and the artichoke plant, are as important as colored blooms. In fact, she plants cannas more for their foliage than for their bloom.


Streitmatter says gardeners can find new varieties of traditional flowers, such as lady in black, a cultivar of the native aster. He adds goldenrods, toad lilies, bugbane and fall-blooming crocuses to the list of overlooked late-blooming flowers.


Neither Crawford or Streitmatter can talk about fall-blooming color without bringing up numerous examples of richly-colored shrubs and small trees, particularly fruit-berry trees such as the beauty berry and the callicarpa, whose stems of bright purple berries can be cut and used in fall arrangements.


Shrubs can add color to a fall garden without nearly as much work as flowers, Crawford says.


Fall-bloomers, including mums, found in containers at nurseries or retail store gardening sections can be planted now. However, Crawford says her mums come back year after year, mainly because her garden has good drainage.


She's also found at least one flower, the icicle pansy, which blooms now and survives the winter to bloom again in the early spring.


"They're beautiful next to daffodils," she said.


Speaking of daffodils leads to thoughts of spring:


It's best to plant now for spring color. Tulips can wait longer, possibly until November.


"You have to plant daffodils earlier than tulips because they need more time to form roots," Crawford said.


But the big advantage of daffodils is that deer don't eat them, but deer do love tulips and crocuses. Crawford is always looking for plants that give her the most bang for the buck. Icicle pansies, with their fall and spring blooms, fit the bill. She plants them where she would have planted crocuses.


Streitmatter notes the new varieties of daffodils on the market, from dwarf to monster daffodils, such as the Dutch master. They're also coming in different colors, such as soft salmons and pinks.


"People aren't familiar with those, but they're becoming more and more available," Streitmatter said.


Whether enjoying fall color or planning for spring blooms, Crawford says now is the time to examine the garden and plan for what needs to be divided or transplanted. It's important to map out where plants are. For instance, hostas are easiest to divide in the spring. But by spring, it's hard to remember where you planted them.


"Take photos or write down what you want to change," Crawford said. "Look at what doesn't grow well in one area and what areas you might want to put it. And don't forget texture and color. You can move things around to complement texture and color."


Pam Adams can be reached at padams@pjstar.com.