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While we're relishing in the cooler temperatures and the beauty of the fantastic colors of changing leaves that go along with our fall-blooming friends, we're also preparing ourselves mentally for quickly approaching months of cold air with no color. You're thinking Those days will be here soon? Say it isn't so! Well I'm here today to tell you it isn't so! It is possible to have bright, bold color bursting forth from your garden during all but the bitterest cold days of our Midwest winters. And I've gotten myself prepared mentally to look out my front window and embrace the joy from the weather defying beauty I know I'll see.
This first plant is Ornamental (or sometimes called Flowering) Cabbage. It is very similar to, and its name is often used interchangeably with, Ornamental Kale. Both are members of the Brassica family, along with other plants we often see on our dinner table such as cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and turnips. Ornamental Cabbages have smooth leaves while Ornamental Kales have ruffled or fringed leaves. There is a wide variety of Ornamental Cabbage and Kale cultivars available with shades of red (purple), white and pink to choose from, as well as smooth, fringed, and ruffled leaves.
Ornamental Cabbages and Kales actually get prettier as temperatures get colder and they experience a few frosts. This is because, just like the process that allows tree leaves to achieve intense color as temperatures cool, the plant's chlorophyll production ceases. As old chlorophyll breaks down, the other pigments that also exist in the leaves are revealed. Ornamental Cabbages and Kales can survive to temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
While it is recommended that Ornamental Cabbages and Kales be planted 15-18 inches apart to allow for continued growth, if the plants become root-bound in a pot, they will not grow much larger so consider this when choosing which size plant to buy in the nursery.
Probably more recognizable than the previous plant is the Pansy. What might not be so well known, though, is how winter-hardy these little beauties can be. Certain cultivars can continue blooming even beyond the first snowfall. Their bright colors and cold tolerance make them the perfect companion to Ornamental Cabbages and Kales.
So you still have time for one last trip to the nursery to eek a few more months out of your growing season. Imagine looking out at all that bright, cheery color during the cold, drab days of winter!