Mums, hay bales, cornstalks, and pumpkins are starting to pop up in neighborhoods everywhere. Most people have put their vegetable gardens to bed by now. So when we recommend adding cabbage or peppers in fall plantings, it raises some eyebrows. Using plants that are traditionally grown as edibles to accent the landscape can be a difficult concept for many. But it’s important to note that using cabbage, kale, or even ornamental peppers can bring visual interest, little maintenance, and long lasting color into your fall annual garden or container.
Foliage and fruit from ornamental vegetables can offer unique shapes, brighter colors, and a contrast in texture. Ornamental peppers often have small fruit with a waxy exterior of shiny reds, oranges, and purples. You can often see them transitioning from one color to another as the fruits age. Cabbage and kale offer various textures to meet different tastes. Varieties with smooth edging pull your planting together. In contrast, lacey textures add drama and draw attention. Their bold color palettes add bright contrast to what may already be planted. And their distinct shape adds low lying interest.
These fall ornamentals are also very easy to care for. Peppers usually need a little more attention, but simply “picking” the old fruits off is enough to encourage a new flush of vitality. They need moderate watering and occasional staking to keep them from bending. Ornamental cabbage and kale are one of the lowest maintenance plants in the fall landscape. In comparison to their flowering counterparts, cabbage and kale do not need deadheading. They only need the occasional removal of lower leaves. They need less water than flowering and fruiting plants. Due to their compact habit, they are less likely to suffer damage from inclement weather. And as foliage plants, they grow well in a range of environments from full sun to part shade.
Cabbage and kale shine as cold crops, and their ornamental appeal increases as the temperature drops and options grow more limited. As the season starts to cool, green heads will start to turn shades of pink, red, purple, or white! A mild frost will actually bring out more vibrant colors. And repeated frosts will help keep the color fresh and bright. With an ability to tolerate such low temperatures, cabbage may continue to look fantastic past Thanksgiving!
So as you welcome fall back to your doorstep with garden beds full of mums, corn stalks, pumpkins and hay bales, remember to try planting some ornamental edibles. You’ll be amazed at their versatility, ease of care, and their ability to endure in the fall landscape.