Mum’s Not the Word

Aster Alma Potchke in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Aster Alma Potchke (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

My horse’s coats are starting to thicken up, a sure sign that colder weather is approaching.  For those without horses, there are mums popping up at every nursery, grocery store, gas station and diner.  It’s just what everybody is programmed to do.  Like Stepford Wives, we obediently wander in a daze looking for mums to plant once fall arrives.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many alternatives . . .

I confess to giving in to the habit of purchasing a few mums each year, but once the blooming ceases, again I wonder why I didn’t get something more permanent.  And this is the dilemma.  The mum cultivators are producing more and more beautiful selections with hard to resist colors, using the term “hardy,” implying they can be planted and will come back again next year, which is rarely the case.

Violet Aster w/sage in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Violet Aster with sage (Photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

After more attempts than I care to admit, I had one  so called “hardy” mum over-winter in my garden.  It formed buds in June, which I had to prune off.  They came back again in July, again more pruning, and once more in August.  For a low maintenance striver like myself, this was far too much effort.  Lucky for me, the mum did not over-winter the following year.  Good riddance.

Now the search was on for more interesting, easy to care for, dependable fall blooming perennials that work well in a container, yet are content to be planted in the garden once their display has dimmed.  With minimal effort, I found a plethora of great plants-and you will, too.

Aster 'Lady in Black' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Aster ‘Lady in Black’ (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

One word: aster and you’ll have so many choices there won’t possibly be enough room to fit them all.  For shorter forms: Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’ is incredibly popular (now there’s a ‘Pink Dome’), for a blue flower you can look at Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’ or cordifolius ‘Woods Blue’ and for a stunning white Aster novi-belgii ‘Bonningdale White’.  Being a lover of the bigger plants, I prefer the taller, more assuming 4′ asters like bubble gum pink novae-angliae ‘Alma Potchke’, light pink novae-angliae ‘Harrington’s Pink’, deep fuschia novae-angliae ‘September Ruby’ and the periwinkle Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’.  For a ‘tween 3’ size, the dependable lilac Aster frikarti will work perfectly.  For drama and funk-ability, the horizontal growing native Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’ can be enjoyed for her foliage and structure alone; the tiny raspberry flowers are an added treat, like whipped cream on pumpkin pie.  I’ll bet you can find many of these sun loving, drought tolerant (zoned 4-8) playful pixies at your local nursery, but if not, visit for a huge selection.

A combination of Sedum in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A combination of container Sedums (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Finally, sedum tall and short would also work fabulously in containers, many herbs like sages and mints laugh at frost, fall vegetables and cabbages add great leaf texture and sedges, low grasses and carex paired with bright colored pansies … the list goes on for fall plants you can experiment with, most of which will be there greeting you next spring and many years to come.


  1. Your title on this one is brilliantly clever! Love it!

  2. Kathy Lewis says

    I like to add hardy mums to my garden. A new one is Chrysanthemum ‘Bronze Elegans.’ Some are very old and have spread; e.g., Dendranthema ‘Sheffield’ and ‘Clara Curtis.’

    • Thank you for sharing, Kathy. There are a few hardy mums out there that some gardeners are having success with. Definitely worth considering for fall color!

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