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Asters and mums

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

Fall provides us with brilliant colors: orange pumpkins, yellow mums, purple asters, and bronze autumn joy sedums. The fall flower garden has a lot to offer and brings a change in flower color. Notice how the fall flowers offer deeper orange and burgundy instead of bright red and yellow.

Most people think of mums as the main fall flowering plant. Mums are important, but don't rule out asters, sedums, Japanese anemone, and ornamental grasses.

Asters bloom in later summer into early fall. Asters have colorful, yellow-centered daisy flowers of blue, purple, white, pink, and red. Heights range from 6 inches to 6 feet depending on the type grown.

For a beautiful fall planting, try some of the asters like Aster x frickartii 'Monch.' This is a sturdy plant that remains under 3 feet tall. It has lavender blossoms above dark green, mildew-resistant leaves. Many of the native asters such as the New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) can reach up to 5-6 feet and require staking. They make lovely cut flowers for fall flower arranging.

Fall mums are an old time staple of the fall garden. There are types available that offer early, mid-season, and late color. Heights vary from one to five feet tall. To keep them compact, remember to pinch (cut) them back a couple of times during the summer.

Garden mums come in all colors except blue and many forms from daisy to pompon, and button to full cushion. If you want the mum to come back each year in the garden, be sure to purchase a hardy mum. It is not too late to plant your garden mums. Soil temperatures are warm enough to allow adequate root growth and establish the plants for the winter.

Ornamental grasses add texture and variety to your fall garden. Try Erianthus, Miscanthus, and Panicum grasses. Flowers appear in late summer and add interest well into the winter months.

Finally, many of the woody plants produce beautiful berries at this time of year. Examples include hollies, hawthorn, chokeberries, and crabapples. While walking to the University of Illinois football game last weekend, I noticed an impressive display of red chokeberry (Aronia Arbutifolia). The fruit is bright red, firm and glossy and final well into January.

Take time this fall to notice the beauty around you. Trees show their colors; fall perennials are at their peak, fall fruit displays are evident, and fall decorations abound. Best of all, temperatures are perfect for an autumn walk to enjoy it all!

Please watch the short video I created on this topic at



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.