Beyond mums for fall beauty

Chrysanthemums are gorgeous and spectacular and an easy way to provide bright splashes of color in your fall landscape. There are other perennial plants, however, that will hold a place in flowerbeds all summer and bring forth their blooms in fall.
Just when everything else in your perennial bed has petered out, chelone, pronounced chee-LOW-nee, also called turtlehead, begins to bloom. Fall is full of bright yellows, oranges and reds, but chelone quiets things down with white or pink one-inch, inflated, tubular flowers resembling the head of a turtle with its mouth wide open. Flowers are held atop and along strong upright stems with lustrous deep green leaves.
Chelone grows best in moist soils in full sun or part shade. Depending on the cultivar chosen (read the label) they may grow from 2’ to 5’ tall. But if you find a color you like and the plant is expected to grow taller than you desire, pinching it back early in the season will shorten its ultimate height.
Chelone’s fleshy-rooted crowns can be divided in spring or late fall after flowering. It can be grown from seed sown in fall.
Tricytris, pronounced try-SER-tis, is also called toad lily. It resembles chelone in form, but the flowers are white with dense deep reddish-purple spotting and yellowish throats. The one-inch flowers are arranged in branched clusters in leaf axils and at the top of the stems and look like upward-facing funnels.
Tricytris prefers evenly moist, rich soil in light to partial shade. Clumps may be divided in spring. If the first frost comes late enough to allow the seeds to ripen, you may get some self-sown seedlings.
Both chelone and toad lily should be planted where the flowers can be appreciated up close. Their beauty is lost in the distant view.
Helenium, also called sneezeweed, is not a weed at all, and it doesn’t make you sneeze since its pollen is too heavy to be carried on the wind. Helenium is in the daisy family, and its flowers resemble the traditional daisy, with one exception. I have to say that every time I see sneezeweed, I think of Michael Strahan, because there are a few petals and then a small space between petals that reminds me of the gap in Michael’s front teeth.
Sneezeweed’s colors range from bright yellow through orange to mahogany. It grows best in evenly moist, rich soils in full sun. Stems can be pinched once or twice in spring to promote sturdy, compact growth. Divide clumps every 3-4 years in spring to keep them vigorous.
Back on the topic of mums, I’m often asked if they can be planted in the ground after they are finished flowering in the fall and if they will survive until next year. Maybe. You’ll have the best chance successfully overwintering them if you plant them in the ground as soon as you purchase them in late August or early September so the roots can become established before winter.

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