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Mums – Cool Season Thriller and Cut Flower Filler!

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Scientific Name: Chrysanthemum

Common Name: Fall Mum, Hardy Mum, Garden Mum

Common Colors: White, pink, yellow, violet, green, orange

Plant Type: Flowering Shrub

Annual or Perennial: Available as both, usually Annuals

Hardiness Zone: 3-9 USDA

Self-Seeding: No

Bloom Season: Summer through Early Winter

Grows Best In: Full Sun

Fun Fact: Mums are edible and often used to make tea! (But always confirm no pesticides or chemicals have been used on your plant before consuming!)

Mums are probably the flower or plant most associated with the Fall season and cooler weather. In late August and early September, Mums can be found in just about any grocery store, garden center, and even hardware stores. While mums come in both Annual and Perennial varieties, most often the mums found in these locations are grown to be used as annuals. They are grown and cultivated for their bright colors and their neat shape, and as a result their root systems can be weaker than a mum grown to be planted in the ground to return year after year. For this reason, most mums are best suited for seasonal displays in planters, or even in more creative containers such as hollowed out pumpkins.

While they may not come back year after year (though, with proper care and planting it’s certainly possible!) they will remain quite sturdy as the temperatures begin to drop in the Fall, long after other plants have begun to fade and wilt. Paired with other cooler-season plants like snapdragons, Ornamental Kale or Cabbage, and pansies, these happy little cousins of the daisy can create a beautiful display of color and shape that will last well into the first cold snaps of winter. Mums should be kept well-watered, but not soggy. You can let the top few inches of soil dry out between waterings, but try to avoid allowing the mums to begin to wilt or they may never be as full and strong and bright as they were before.

Fall mums will survive in temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If snow falls, cover the mums to protect the blossoms from damage. Mums can also tolerate heat up to 100 degrees, but they will need to be kept well-watered and would do better in some shade during times of extreme heat. To keep blooms coming regularly throughout the blooming season, remove spent blossoms at the base of the head. Mums can also be shaped as they grow to give them a well-rounded form by pinching the stems to achieve the shape desired.

Mums will do well as cut flowers in arrangements, and can be lovely when paired with other Fall flowers like sunflowers, rustic bare sticks and branches, and some copper twinkle lights. In the United States, mums tend to symbolize optimism, joy, and longevity. Mums are November’s flower of the month, and are generally known to be deer-resistant. Mums are fantastic flowers for drying and pressing, as well.

Holly – Deer Resistant Holly Jolly Evergreen!

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Scientific Name: Ilex Opaca and Ilex Aquifolium are most common

Common Name: Holly

Common Species/Varieties: American Holly, English Holly, Common Winterberry

Common Colors: Green with white, yellow, pink, black or red berries

Plant Type: Shrub

Annual or Perennial: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: Usually between USDA zones 4-10, depending on variety

Self-Seeding: No

Bloom Season: Berries are usually mature in late Fall (do not eat!)

Grows Best In: Mostly in Full Sun to Part Shade

Fun Fact: Holly has long been associated with Christmas and Winter, but the Harry Potter series added to its popularity due to Harry Potter’s wand being made of Holly with a Phoenix Feather Core!

There are over 560 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae! Depending on the variety, Holly’s coloring can consist of dark green leaves, blue-green leaves, and even green leaves with yellow edges. Their trademark berries can be several different colors and sizes – including white, yellow, pink, black, and red. Just don’t ever consume the berries or any part of the plant as it is considered to be toxic if ingested. Most Holly shrubs are deer resistant, with American Holly being the best option for those with hungry deer in their area.

Holly Shrubs will do well in containers or planted directly in the ground, and its branches can be beautiful when used in cut “flower” displays in Fall and Winter. Grab a tall vase, cut some pine or spruce branches as well as some holly branches, and place them in some water in the vase. For an added holiday charm, dry slices of apple and orange, and string them, along with cinnamon sticks, on some twine and drape them around the branches. You can even add tiny copper twinkle lights to finish off the cheery holiday look!

Plant Holly bushes in Spring or in Fall during cooler temperatures to put as little stress on the plant as possible. As with most new shrub planting, make sure to keep your Holly shrubs watered evenly until the plant is fully established. Holly Shrubs are drought tolerant and need only be watered during drought conditions once established. Like many Blueberry bushes, most Holly bushes need both a male and a female bush in the same general location in order to produce the bright red berries that Holly shrubs are famous for. During harsh weather conditions, it may be necessary to wrap Holly shrubs in burlap to protect them from bright sun (especially if snow is on the ground in winter!) and extremely harsh and blowing snow storms.

Holly is traditionally associated with Christmas, and this tradition goes back a long time. Holly was important to the Celtics, the Nordics, and the Druids! Holly wreaths were considered to be good luck, and were worn as crowns by Celtic Chieftains. The Holly tree is also said to represent wisdom.

Ornamental Kale and Cabbage – Vegetable “Flowers” with a Tolerance for Cool Weather!

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Scientific Name: Brassica oleracea

Common Name: Ornamental Kale and Cabbage

Common Species/Varieties: Peacock, Osaka, Color Up

Common Colors: Pinks, purples, whites, greens

Plant Type: Leafy Green

Annual or Perennial: Biennial grown as Annual

Hardiness Zone: 2-11 USDA

Self-Seeding: Yes, Biannually if it flowers

Bloom Season: NA

Grows Best In: Full sun in cooler months, part shade in warmer months

Fun Fact: Unlike most plants, I thrive in cool temperatures!

While Ornamental Kale and Cabbage are technically edible, they’re not very palatable. Their main purpose is to serve as decoration in the cooler months of Winter and Spring, especially in decorative pots. While one wouldn’t usually think of vegetables as being particularly decorative, these plants come in beautiful shades of pinks, greens, purples, and whites.

Ornamental Kale and Cabbage can grow to be between 12 and 18 inches tall and wide. They can survive in most conditions down to temperatures near 5 degrees F and up to temperatures near 50 degrees F. Cover these plants to keep snow and rain off them during cold months, and keep them in the shade during warmer months. Generally they are happiest in cooler temps than in warmer temps, and perform best above 20 degrees F. Ornamental Kale and Cabbage will actually become more colorful as the temperatures get cooler!

Typically you can find Ornamental Kale and Cabbage already started at our garden center in the Fall, but you can also start your own from seed indoors in mid-Summer, and place them outside in the Fall to finish maturing in time for cooler weather. Water Ornamental Kale and Cabbage when the top inch of the soil is dry, but don’t over-water. Ornamental Kale and Cabbage will do best in full sun to part shade.

Consider planting them with other cool-weather favorites like chrysanthemums, snapdragons, or violas. When you plant Ornamental Kale and Cabbage, plant them pretty close together as they grow slowly and will not crowd out other plants quickly. They look beautiful in decorative pots with other cool season favorites such as the plants listed above, and for an added wow-factor, try adding decorative branches and solar lights or lanterns to your outdoor decorative display! These plants will likely last well into December in Colorado (depending on how early our cold temperatures settle in), so plan some season holiday decor for your cool weather display, as well!

Smoke Bush – Drought Tolerant and Incredibly Colorful!

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Scientific Name: Cotinus coggygria

Common Name: Smoke Tree, Smoke Bush

Common Species/Varieties: Royal Purple, Velvet Cloak

Common Colors: Deep purples and reds, bright greens and golds

Plant Type: Shrub

Annual or Perennial: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 4-11 USDA

Self-Seeding: Not usually

Bloom Season: Late Spring to Mid Summer

Grows Best In: Full Sun

Fun Fact: Smoke Bush has been used to dye silks and wools!

Smoke Bush is a very laid back and showy shrub! It does well in most soils, including rocky soil. This Fall colored shrub can grow to be 10-15 feet in height. Not only is Smoke Bush easy going where soil is concerned, it’s also drought tolerant once established.

Clusters of yellow flowers are surrounded by a plume of pink hairs that deepen in color that can last for several months. Smoke bush is a member of the sumac family, and it’s important to know that it can take some time for the shrub to establish enough to bloom. Take care not to prune until right after Summer flowering! Smoke Bush can also be trained up into a tree shape if desired.

Smoke Bush can also be used to create dyes for fabrics, yarns, paper, thread… There are so many options! Perhaps its best use of color though is its lovely Fall color. With all of its fantastic traits pertaining to color, you might think Smoke Bush is a bit of a colorless misnomer!

With its easy going planting needs, drought-tolerant tendency, and promise of various and rich kinds of color throughout the year, this shrub could be the perfect addition to so many different outdoor spaces!

Find Smoke Bush at Nick’s Garden Center throughout the growing season, and don’t forget to check in with our helpful staff if you have any questions about planting or your particular gardening space!

Coreopsis – Sunny Wildflower and “always cheerful”!

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Scientific Name: Coreopsis spp.

Common Name: Cotinus coggygria

Common Species/Varieties: Early Sunrise, Hardy Jewel

Common Colors: Yellow is most common, but can also be found in reds and whites

Plant Type: Flowering

Annual or Perennial: Depends on the variety!

Hardiness Zone: 2-11 USDA

Self-Seeding: Yes

Bloom Season: Annuals bloom in early summer through the fall, and perennials will begin blooming the second year after planting.

Grows Best In: Full sun

Fun Fact: Coreopsis means “always cheerful” in the language of flowers!

This sunny little wildflower doesn’t require a ton of planning or pruning. Plant it in a meadow-type setting or grouping, and deadhead the plant to keep the blooms coming all summer long. In Colorado it may be wise to plant the flowers where they won’t get the full blast of our intense afternoon sun, or the plants may wilt or struggle. Keep annual coreopsis plants well watered, and water perennials regularly at least until they are established. (Don’t forget to water after the sun has gone down or very early in the morning to avoid losing most of the water meant for the plants to the heat of the sun and evaporation!)

Coreopsis is related to the daisy as part of the Asteraceae family, but unlike the daisy, some have special trumpet-shaped round petals!

Bees and other pollinators love these colorful flowers, so plant them anywhere that you’d like to attract pollinators. Some versions of Coreopsis grow taller than others, but most fall in the 1 to 2 foot range. While pollinators enjoy these flowers, deer do not typically prefer them, so feel free to plant them in your space even if you have deer visitors. Like Smoke Bush, Coreopsis has been used as a dye for fabrics, yarns, paper, threads, and more. They are even said to have been used boiled in water as a predecessor to coffee by Native Americans! (Though one should always check on the properties and effects of a plant before using it as a food or beverage!)

Bearberry – All Season Interest and Drought Tolerant!

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Scientific Name: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Common Name: Bearberry, Kinnikinic

Common Species/Varieties: Alpine, Common, Red

Common Colors: Most Bearberry plants have similar colors

Plant Type: Shrub

Annual or Perennial: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 2-7 USDA

Self-Seeding: No

Bloom Season: Spring

Grows Best In: Full sun to light shade

Fun Fact: Bearberry gets its name thanks to the fact that bears love the red berries that grow on this shrub through Spring.

Bearberry is somewhat more finicky when it comes to the type of soil we have in Colorado, but when you’re looking for a plant that will do well in a pot or planter, this is the plant! Bearberry, or Kinnikinnick, likes a sandy, somewhat gravelly soil and prefers to be on the dryer side. This is because this plant is rhizomatous, meaning that at its base there are little bulbs that retain water when the soil is dry. Think of these bulbs as the leaves of a succulent that hold moisture in rather than having roots like many plants that take water from the soil as the plant needs it.

Bearberry can grow to between 6 inches and 1 foot high, and makes a great low-profile ground cover in sandy, loamy places. It grows in a shrub-like structure, and can be pruned and shaped.

Bearberry is a great plant for all-season interest. Its active-season foliage is bright green, waxy, and tear shaped. It sprouts beautiful little flowers in the Spring that look similar to blueberry flowers. In the Fall the leaves turn a coppery color, and the red berries that bears love so much can stay on the shrub well into Spring. Its bark also provides winter interest even after leaves have fallen!

Bearberry berries are not usually eaten by humans, but they have been used in tinctures and various herbal remedies for bladder problems and some skin conditions. Always check with a physician before using an herbal product! Bearberry was also used by Native Americans to create a yellow dye. Dried Bearberry leaves have a scent similar to autumn leaves combined with pine, and were used as a smoke blend addition by Native Americans, hence the name “Kinnikinic,” which means “smoking mixture” in the Algonquin language.

Butterfly Bush – Pollinator Favorite with Honey Scented Blossoms!

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Scientific Name: Buddleja davidii

Common Name: Butterfly Bush

Common Species/Varieties: Blue Chip,  Miss Pearl, Purple Haze

Common Colors: Purple, Pink, White, Blue, Orange

Plant Type: Shrub

Annual or Perennial: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: mostly 5-9 USDA, so up to zone 10

Self-Seeding: No

Bloom Season: Spring and Summer

Grows Best In: Full sun to partial shade

Fun Fact: Blooms smell like honey!

Butterfly Bush is a favorite of pollinators. Its flowers grow in a shape similar to that of lilac, and many pollinators, including butterflies, love to visit the tightly grouped heads of tiny flowers. Butterfly bush should not be planted in soggy soil, or with plants that require heavy watering (like hydrangea) because they are susceptible to root rot. A single Butterfly Bush shrub can grow to be between 6 and 12 feet tall, and can spread to widths between 5 and 15 feet.

Looking for a plant that will not be of interest to hungry deer? This is the plant for you! Just check with your local plant officials because in some places, Butterfly Bush can be invasive (mostly in the Pacific Northwest). But on the plus side, Butterfly Bush can be drought tolerant once established, so it’s a good option for xeriscaping.

While best known for attracting Swallowtail Butterflies, Butterfly Bush will also bring bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators to your space. Butterfly Bush has been said to represent rebirth, resurrection, and new beginnings. Other plants in the same Buddleja family (there are over 100!) have been used in Chinese medicine (it originates in China) to treat things from eye problems to hernias. (Reminder – never use a plant product internally without first consulting an expert and physician!)

Calathea Beauty Star

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You might have seen the Mile Marker boards that parents create for their children – they highlight things like the height, weight, likes, and dislikes of their child at various stages of life. We at Nick’s Garden Center think Plant Parents should have something like this for their Plant Babies as well! Our Plant Parent Chalkboard Photos and blogs will provide you with an overview of what each plant needs in order to “grow up” happy and healthy!

The Calathea family is vast and contains around 300 different kinds of Calathea! This blog will cover Calathea Beauty Star. A sibling of Calathea Ornata, these plants share very similar markings and coloration. Dark green leaves with pointed tips are striped with pink and white coloring that will fade to completely white as they age, and the undersides are a dark reddish purple. As with many Calathea plants, Beauty Star will grow to be about two feet high and wide indoors, and is not likely to flower indoors.

Calathea Beauty Star likes bright, indirect light. If your light is too strong, consider a translucent curtain to further filter the light. Brown spots on the leaves usually indicate that the light source is too strong (whereas brown edges usually indicate that the plant needs more humidity). The best place for a Calthea is in a well-lit bathroom where temperatures are warm and the air is often humid.

Plant Calathea Beauty Star in soil that will evenly retain moisture. African Violet soil is a good option for this calathea plant which particularly prefers a more moist soil than some calatheas. Water Calathea Beauty Star when the top inch of soil is dry. Watering too soon can create a breeding ground for black gnats and contribute to root rot. Use distilled or rain water for this fluoride-sensitive plant, and use the Drench and Drain method when watering. Allow the water to flow out of the bottom of the pot and don’t let the pot sit in standing water. If your pot does not have adequate drainage, use a Moisture Meter before and during watering to accurately determine the moisture level of the soil at the bottom of the pot. If you over water and your pot does not have adequate drainage, tip the pot gently to the side in order to let excess water gently drain away without dislodging the plant or soil.

Keep Calathea Beauty star away from drafts and vents. As with other Calathea plants, Beauty Star is considered to be pet and people safe, but always double check for safety with a professional. When it’s happy, Calathea Beauty Star is likely to be air cleaning. Calathea isn’t the easiest plant to care for, but it’s not the hardest either. If you’re accustomed to plants that require regular attention and care, Calathea is a great plant for you. It’s also for you if you’re used to beginner level plants but want to try your hand at an intermediate level plant as they’re not as rare as some intermediate level plants.

Don’t forget to save our Plant Parent Chalkboard photo for a quick reference later on!

Happy Plant Parenting!


Russian Sage – Drought Tolerant with Colorful Fragrance!

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Scientific Name: Salvia yangii, formerly Perovskia atriplicifolia

Common Name: Russian Sage

Common Species/Varieties: Blue Spires, Blue Mist

Common Colors: Sage green foliage and lavender purple flower

Plant Type: Shrub

Annual or Perennial: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 5-10 USDA

Self-Seeding: Not typically

Bloom Season: Spring through Fall

Grows Best In: Full Sun

Fun Fact: Perovskia means wisdom and knowledge.

Russian Sage is one of the best plants for a “plant it and forget it” approach. It needs to be watered moderately when first planted, but it can be almost completely ignored one its roots have grown deep into the earth. It needs a very well-draining soil, and is an excellent xeriscape plant. It’s important to trim away the previous season’s dead plant matter once new growth starts to come in. It can also be cut down to about a foot high in the winter to make Spring pruning easier.

Russian Sage is a big showy performer in the Summer and Fall. Its light purple flowers, which are tiny and grow all along the top two thirds of the plant, create an almost hazy smoke-like effect when viewed from afar. They’re a great plant for large spaces that need filling, especially in very sunny hot spaces that other plants might wilt in. They can grow to be up to five feet tall! They’re also a very responsible plant as they require almost no water, and the bees absolutely love the little purple flowers. Attracting bees and other pollinators to your yard can help your garden blossom and grow bigger and better. The foliage of the plant deserves a mention as well – it’s lovely and smells similar to artemisia or sage. It’s even deer resistant! Russian Sage represents power, success, and a strong character.

Hydrangea – Drama Queen with Dramatic Beauty!

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Scientific Name: Hydrangea, hortensia

Common Name: Hydrangea

Common Species/Varieties: Tiny Tuff Stuff, Summer Crush, Seaside Serenade

Common Colors: Pink, Blue, Purple

Plant Type: Flowering Shrub

Annual or Perennial: Perennial

Hardiness Zone: 3-9 USDA

Self-Seeding: No

Bloom Season: Summer through Fall

Grows Best In: Part Shade

Fun Fact: Hydrangea has historically been referred to as “Change Rose” because of the way that the color of certain hydrangeas can be manipulated between shades of pink and blue.

Hydrangea can be… dramatic. They add a beautiful kind of drama to a garden landscape in the form of their big, softball sized flower clusters and their giant thick green foliage. They also behave dramatically in hot dry weather. While they do best in a humid climate, they can thrive in the drier climate in Colorado and surrounding areas when planted and cared for properly. Hydrangea will do best in our climate when planted in a place where it will receive bright morning sun, but be shaded from the intense afternoon sun. Hydrangea will need moderate watering, with more frequent watering until firmly established in their new home.

Hydrangea come in many different varieties, as well as different colors. Depending on the variety, your hydrangea may be anywhere from three feet to fifteen feet tall!

Hydrangea colors are truly stunning. Limelight Hydrangea blooms start out the same green as its foliage, then unfold into a minty white. Zinfin Doll Hydrangea has a white flower that looks like it has been flecked with pink paint. And some Hydrangea flowers, the flowers of the Hydrangea macrophylla plants, give you the option to change their color based on the pH of the soil. The trick lies in manipulating the amount of aluminum in the soil. Add lime, and your flowers will be more pink. To move them toward blue, add some aluminum sulfate. Play with the mixture to achieve the color you want – you can even meet in the middle with purple!

Like the changeability of their color, the meaning of hydrangea have changed over the years. They have been known to represent both pride and gratitude. They have even been rumored to keep someone from marrying if a hydrangea plant is installed outside a bedroom window. Hydrangea is poisonous and should never be ingested in any form. It contains low levels of cyanide and can be very dangerous. Keep it out of the reach of little hands and hungry furry friends’ mouths. When using hydrangea as a cut flower in an arrangement, cut the stem lengthwise in half, and then each section in half again. These are very thirsty flowers and they need as much absorbent area as possible! You can try waking up an over-thirsty cut hydrangea bunch by dunking the entire thing in ice water.