Fall is for Growing Pansies — but Not Always

uddleia Pugster shrubbery

The Buddleia Pugster series is reasonably compact and has large flowers.
Photo by Allan Armitage

I work with a well-known producer of perennial plants, and for many years, its production has included a fall program of pansies and violas. This year, the grower made the decision not to grow these crops because of difficulties in production and demand. Yet, to reject the program meant that the money the pansies were bringing in had to be replaced with something. We put our heads together to find plants that would fit the production methods for pansies and provide sufficient demand.


It can be argued that in today’ s promotion-happy market, where anything can be sold if enough money is put behind the program, that the plants are less important than the hype. That is a mistake that will yield dividends in the short term but will eventually implode. For a successful fall program, good promotion is key, but good promotion without appropriate plants is just a waste of money.

Here are a few of the options we started discussing.

The program had already started to include a few shrubs, so why not include something like Abelia? ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Radiance’ are two cultivars that work very well for fall programs.

How about Buddleia? It flowers most of the time, including the fall if cut back in late summer. Everyone loves the idea of pollinators and color. ‘Monarch Prince Charming,’ the Buzz series, and the new Pugster series are all reasonably compact.

People who are shopping in the fall will find the cultivars of pinks (Dianthus), snapdragons, and poppies (especially Iceland poppies) as beautiful today as ever. Every year, we see more breeding of interspecific pinks and better, quicker-to-flower snapdragons. With proper scheduling, these can be flowered for fall sales. Depending on climate, many cultivars will overwinter for spring flowering as well.

How about other fall-flowering annuals like Nemesia, Nierembergia, and even a fall program of Petunias? All these tolerate cool weather, including frosts to 28°F, and while they won’t overwinter, they provide months of solid flowering. And don’t forget the annual salvias or large-flowered zinnias — they look fabulous in the fall.

Of course, fall is for planting. We have heard it often, but fall perennials have not often been sold for impulse sales.

Why aren’t we selling more hostas in mixed fall containers? They have wonderful foliage colors and go well with all those annuals mentioned above.

Hardy mums (Dendranthema) like the Igloo series have been around for such a sufficient time that these are no-brainers.

However, remember to emphasize the hardy part of the name; they are easily confused with the avalanche of fall mums.

Foliage in the fall is always eye-catching. How about those wonderful ‘Burgundy Glow’ or ‘Black Scallop’ bugleweeds (Ajuga)? Don’t overlook deadnettles (Lamium) like ‘White Nancy’ or ‘Beacon Silver.’ Lastly, with those hostas above, add a few golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia ‘Aurea’) — eyeballs will not miss them.

There are a ton of choices here, but feel free to add your own to this short list.