Creative ways to use flowers for fall decor

Mums mixed with ornamental grass in a fall garden.

Melinda Myers – Columnist

Pansies have long been a fall and winter garden favorite. These are cheery

Scoop out the inside of a pumpkin, add some drainage holes, and plant some pansies for a festive fall planter.
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flowers are sure to brighten landscapes and containers and add a smile to any occasion. Look for fun and new ways to add them to your garden and fall celebrations.

Pansies thrive in the cooler temperatures of fall and during mild winters when your summer annuals fade or succumb to frost. They make great fillers in garden beds and containers or displayed in their own planter.

Trailing pansies are perfect for hanging baskets, as trailers in container gardens, or as edging plants in garden beds. You will need half as many of these pansy varieties to cover the same garden space.

Plant a basket of white trailing pansies, add some sunglasses and you have a ghost for Halloween. Scoop out the inside of a pumpkin, add some drainage holes and use it for a planter. Fill it with potting mix and you’ll have a biodegradable pot for the compost pile when finished. Or simply put a container of pansies inside your pumpkin pot.

Include pansies in your fall meals and gatherings. Only use pansies and other edible flowers that have not been treated with pesticides. Be sure to let your guests know that the pansies are safe to eat, so they can enjoy this unique dining experience. Otherwise, you will find blossoms at the bottom of glasses or left on plates.

Pick a few flowers, remove the reproductive parts, and freeze them in ice cube trays to serve in your favorite beverage. Float a few of the flower ice cubes in your favorite punch.

Add a gourmet touch, some unique flavor, and color to your salads by topping a bed of greens with a few flowers. Continue the theme by decorating cookies or cakes with a few of your favorite pansies. The cheerful flowers will generate happy thoughts and for some, a way to enjoy the last of this season’s garden.

Brighten the start of school and your classroom while showing your favorite teacher a bit of appreciation. A do-it-yourself planter filled with cheery pansies is sure to elevate the mood of both students and teachers alike.

Other creative ways to utilize them this fall is simply to use them as colorful fillers for voids in gardens and containers.

Colorful mums for fall gardens and containers

Add a burst of fresh color to the fall landscape with mums. This traditional fall flower is still a favorite of many. These fall beauties come in a wide range of colors and provide weeks of floral beauty. Mums are great in containers, the garden, and cut flower bouquets.

When shopping for mums you may see them labeled as garden, perennial, gift, or florist mums. All these different names for plants that basically look alike can be confusing. The answer lies in their response to day length, hardiness, and use.

Mums set flowers based on day length. Growers can force them into bloom by covering them to create the shorter days that initiate flowering. Those grown as gifts and holiday plants are often called florist mums. These usually require the longest periods of uninterrupted darkness or shorter days. When these mums are grown under natural daylight they usually don’t flower until late fall or early winter. These late bloomers are usually killed by cold temperatures before or soon after the flowers appear in colder parts of the country.

Nurseries selling mums in full bloom in the fall often refer to them as garden mums. These may be perennial or “florist” mums forced to flower for fall displays. The intent is to use them as annuals. Set a pot on the steps, pop a plant in a vacant spot in the garden or combine them with other fall favorites.

Even if these garden mums are hardy and suited to your growing conditions, they may not survive the winter. Since all the energy of flowering fall-planted mums is directed to the flowers, little is left to establish a hardy robust root system. If you have success overwintering your garden mum, feel free to brag. If your plants don’t survive or you don’t try, don’t worry. You are using them as a fall annual as they were intended. This provides space for new plants in the spring and an opportunity to try a different color mum next fall.

Those mums sold as perennials are hardy enough to survive the winter and flower in late summer or early fall, providing weeks of color in the garden. They are often sold alongside other perennials, labeled as perennials, or promoted as hardy for the area. Increase your success by planting them in spring. This allows the plant time to develop a root system before it begins flowering. This increases the plant’s ability to survive the cold.

Increase overwintering success of fall planted perennial mums with proper care. Make sure the plants receive sufficient moisture throughout the remainder of the growing season and leave the plants intact in the garden for winter. Those in colder climates may want to add winter mulch. Wait for the ground to freeze. Then cover with weed-free straw or evergreen boughs. Remove the mulch in spring as temperatures hover near freezing or the plants begin to grow. Cut back the dead stems and wait for new growth to appear.

Whatever you call them, add a few mums to your fall display and enjoy that last blast of color before winter arrives.

Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is