Ornamental kales of all kinds and colors are among fall’s most versatile garden plants, so make room for them in flower pots and planters and in bare spots in flower beds. These kales are grown for their texture and color, not for their flavor: they’re frilly but not delicate, tough enough to survive the season’s back-and-forth swings of weather. In mild-winter climates, where temperatures drop below freezing but don’t stay there long, they’ll maintain their lush and lively appearance through the winter.
In fall, the garden’s palette changes from summer brights to rich autumn hues, and ornamental kales complement the season’s tones. Deep reds pick up on the palette of claret-colored chrysanthemums and echo the fiery hues of maples. ‘Glamour Red’, a new variety (and All-America Selections winner) with glossy leaves, is really a three-tone plant, with green leaves surrounding a pink center and ruffled, dusky purple leaves around the perimeter. Like most ornamental kales, it grows to about 12 inches across: you can make a big impression with just a few plants.
The colors of ornamental kales are actually at their best when nighttime temperatures fall below 55 degrees. They look terrific with fall pansies, violas, asters, and with dark pink or creamy sedums. They are spectacular with small fall crops in flower pots: a big ornamental kale will anchor a pot full of lettuce or mustard greens, so no matter how often you harvest your edible crop, you’ll always have a gorgeous kale as a substantial centerpiece. One large, perfectly symmetrical plant will fill a small flower pot all by itself, and a row of pots marching up the front steps, each with its own bristling, round kale plant, looks and snappy and is very little trouble.
Ornamental kales are refreshingly care-free plants. Water thoroughly when you plant them, but in in mild fall days you shouldn’t have to worry about heat stress. They do not need pinching, pruning, or staking. Just allow them a little room to grow and glow through this beautiful season.