For The Answer
Weekly Express-News Article
Saturday, October 15, 2005
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS
Conservation Director, and Horticulturist
Last week we discussed wildflowers, most varieties need to be planted by seed this month. The benefits of this seeding will occur next spring. There is also an opportunity to place transplants this month for blooms this fall, winter and spring in the flower garden. The best cool weather flowers for your garden are petunias, snapdragons, stocks, calendula, dianthus, sweet peas, alyssum, pansies, cyclamen and primula. Wait until next month to plant pansies, cyclamen, and primula. All of the winter annuals except cyclamen and primula do best in raised beds in full sun. If you do not have a raised bed, enrich the native soil with two or three inches of compost incorporated into the top six inches of soil. Also apply a cup of slow release lawn fertilizer spread over 50 square feet of flowerbed. It is most efficient to water with drip irrigation under two inches of a fine mulch such as oak leaves. Control slugs and snail with slug bait.
In other climates, petunias are planted for summer color. In South Texas, they perform best as a cool weather annual flower. Petunias planted now will bloom until late December or until a spell of freezing temperatures. A few selections such as Laura Bush, Kahuna, VIP, Wave, and Carpet often live through the winter and bloom again in March through May. Use petunias in full sun. They grow to fill the space available. In containers they drape over the edge and are very attractive as a hanging basket. Petunias are not a favorite deer food, but are eaten in droughty times. The petunias with the strongest “fragrance” such as VIP and Laura Bush are the least favorite with deer.
Snapdragons are available in purple, red, pink, white, yellow, salmon and some bicolors. Selections range in size from six inches tall to 36 inches tall. Use the short selections for borders and the medium and tall selections in rows or massed plantings. The tallest snapdragons such as “rocket” are spectacular, but sometimes will be wind damaged unless they are planted in relatively sheltered areas. A good strategy is to plant one plant in a five-gallon container supported by a tomato cage. Snapdragons are not usually eaten by deer and they make good cut flowers.
Stocks also make good cut flowers. The colors are not as intense as snapdragons and they are shorter plants with the flowers somewhat hidden by the foliage. Look for the taller varieties for the most attractive show. The favorite selections in the nursery trade are dwarf plants eight to ten inches tall. Stocks have some of the best fragrances in the flower garden.
If your goal is to warm up the winter garden, consider calendula. They have yellow or orange sunflower like blooms about silver dollar size on 10 – 12 inch plants. Butterflies like calendula.
Dianthus is another butterfly favorite. They are also called “pinks.” The blooms are quarter size in variations of pink, white and lavender. Many are bicolors. Dianthus have the most drought and heat tolerance of the winter annuals. They often bloom through May if they are cut back in March. Use dianthus in borders or massed plantings. They look good in containers.
All of the flowers described so far are easy to grow, sweet peas are more difficult. The bloom colors are as diverse and intense as snapdragons. The fragrance is different from stocks, but nearly as pleasing and they make wonderful cut flowers. The best sweet pea selections are vines that do well on trellises. Some bush varieties are available. What makes sweet peas hard to grow is that they are sensitive to cold and hot. They do best in climates with moderate temperatures between 40º F and 70º F. In our climate you have to reseed several times in a typical winter before the plants live long enough to bloom.
Alyssum is another fragrant winter annual. The short (six to eight inches) rounded plants are ideal for borders in the garden and containers. The blooms are tiny, but they cover the plant and perfume the whole garden. Alyssum blooms are lavender or white.