This showy plant continues to have a starring, or co-starring, role

What’s fall without mums? Readily available, they help transform your outdoor space in a snap.

While a single potted mum plopped on the porch signals, “Yep, it’s fall,” people who embrace decorating for the season take a different approach.

To them, mums are just a single element in a bigger display.

Local gardener Courtney Gorman is one of those people. She mixes mums with other fall plants and decorations in her planters and window boxes.

“I decorate a window box by putting a few small mums in with pansies, ornamental peppers and kale – along with adding some small pumpkins and gourds,” said Gorman, whose garden was on the Snyder-CleveHill Garden View and the Tours of Open Gardens in July.

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“For the planters I put in the same pansies, ornamental peppers, kale and ornamental grasses – for height – and maybe some Halloween decorations and Indian corn,” she said.

Local gardener Courtney Gorman dresses her window box for fall.

Photo courtesy of Courtney Gorman

While some people will consider planting mums in the ground now, The News’ Great Gardening columnist Sally Cunningham has written numerous columns with tips on when, how and where to plant hardy mums, including that mums need to be planted in time to get the roots established – “the earlier in September the better (or better yet in spring or early summer if you could acquire the plant),” she writes.

But this time of year, people are choosing hardy mums to decorate their doorsteps and elsewhere.

If you haven’t shopped for fall mums lately, you may be surprised by the options.

Pots planted with mums in more than one color, for starters. Mums in hanging cone-shaped baskets. And mums in different sizes, not just the large potted mums you may be used to.

“We grow them in different sizes, so the small ones people can use in window boxes or in mixed fall planters – with ornamental kale and pumpkins and grasses,” said Anna Badding, of Badding Bros. Farm Market, 10820 Transit Road, East Amherst .

Look for some less-familiar colors, too.

“Every year they’re always coming out with new colors. For example, our most popular color this year is a variety called Key Lime. It’s actually a lime green. It’s really cool,” she said.

Another mum is bright orange with a yellow center.

For those who love fall mums – not everyone does – here are a few ways to decorate with them.

wagon planter

A fall display by Courtney Gorman.

Photo courtesy of Courtney Gorman

• Plant fall mums in colorful or patterned containers (or just place the mum pot right inside the colorful one and top exposed soil with moss or gourds to fill in the gaps if necessary). Picture yellow mums in a cobalt-blue pot. Or red ones in a black-and-white container.

Do you have a collection of clay pots? Reuse them. Cluster them together, pop in some mums and tie some raffia around the pots for a finishing touch.

• Let the pros do the planting. Check out local greenhouses and garden centers for ready-to-go fall planters for an interesting mix of colors and textures using mums and other cold- or frost-tolerant plants.

• Pile pots of mums, pumpkins, a scarecrow and other fall accents in a galvanized steel bucket, old wheelbarrow, child’s wagon or a basket on an old bicycle. (Buffalo Bills flags or signs are also acceptable.)

• Have fun with color. You can go monochromatic by placing pots of mums in the same color up the porch or deck steps or even on deep windowsills. Or combine colors; warm autumnal colors always work together especially with other fall elements such as pumpkins and cornstalks. But you can also pair pinks, oranges and purples together, including pulling in other fall plants that go along with your color scheme. Depending on the color of your house, a grouping of white mums and white pumpkins could be smashing – perhaps with a black-and-white buffalo plaid blanket draped over a porch chair.

• Decorative head planters have been a common sight on local garden walks and tours the last few summers, with plants acting as “hair.” How about giving your planter a new fall ‘do with a mum?

• Photos of mums planted in carved pumpkins are all over the internet, as are instructions for doing so – from replanting a mum directly into a pumpkin to simply popping the pot inside it. Using a craft pumpkin that can be carved (these craft pumpkins come in colors besides orange) is another option for those who want it to last longer than a real carved pumpkin.

• For a simple, inexpensive yet seasonal centerpiece, cut the blooms off a few mums and float them in water in a glass bowl.

Final note: Ask your greenhouse if they take back plastic pots and trays for reuse or recycling.

Mums, mums and more mums. The annual Mum Exhibit at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens is scheduled through Oct. 31. The exhibit, the Botanical Gardens’ oldest flower exhibit, coincides with the Coleus and Creatures Exhibit (also through Oct. 31), as well as the newest exhibit in the Gardens After Dark series, Creatures After Dark (on select nights Oct. 13-31). The Mum and Coleus and Creatures exhibits are included with regular admission. E-tickets are recommended ($14 adults; $12.50 seniors ages 62 and older and students 13 and older with ID.; $7.50 children 3 to 12. Garden members and children 2 and younger are free but must have a ticket. See for hours, details and pre-purchase ticket pricing/additional information for attending Creatures After Dark.