Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
November, 2008
Regional Report

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Cyclamen are among the great choices for keeping our landscapes colorful on into the cool season.

Cool Season Color for the South

This wonderful cool weather has arrived just in time to revitalize the gardening zeal in all of us. The first frost will take out our warm season plants in a month or so, but we are blessed with a palate of many other wonderful plants to bring cool-season color to our landscapes.

Pansies are a super-dependable cool season bedding plant. Traditionally the bi-colored types have been the standard. More recently the solid-colored blossoms are growing in popularity as they make excellent masses of color. I am really impressed with some of the softer, earth-toned shades of the "antique" colored varieties now available.

Violas are a close look-alike to garden pansies and offer an interesting addition to the pansy bed. Because of their small blossom size they are best viewed from up close, so container planting is a great option as is the case for all our cool season plants. The tiny blooms of Johnny-jump-ups are another dependable cool-weather option.

Both pansies and violas prefer cool weather and will suffer if planted too early. For best results I generally wait until late October or early November to set them out to avoid the warm days that we often experience in October.

Snapdragons have been a garden mainstay since before grandma planted her first seed. They are quite easy to grow, come in a wide variety of colors and plant heights, and can even be cut and brought indoors to brighten an otherwise gray day. Some have a wonderful fragrance while others are practically scentless.

If you have kids around, they will enjoy being shown a close look at the flower and how it got its name. The bottom "lip" of the blossom will pull down and then snap back when released.

Calendulas are another great cool-season flower. They are easily grown from seed making them a super choice for a kid's garden, and offer a nice cut flower for a dreary winter day. A wide variety of varieties and mixes are available.

Ornamental kale and cabbage are making their way into the mainstream as annual color plants for the cool season. There are few insects that bother these plants in winter, making them an easy-care choice. In spring some types of kale will "bolt", sending up a flower stalk with a spray of yellow flowers, adding a very attractive and unusual twist to the flower bed.

Dianthus, also called pinks, are one of the hardiest cool-season beauties. A wide variety of blossom colors are available, most of which are in the white to red range. An added plus is their strappy evergreen foliage, which makes a nice addition even without the flowers.

Cyclamen and primula are two less common plant groups; both can make good cool-season color plants. They will tolerate more shade than most of the above species but can be a bit more expensive.

Whatever species you choose for your cool-season color beds, keep the following growing tips in mind: Full sun is best for most flowers. Some are tolerant of a little shade but most do best with lots of light. Exceptions to this rule include cyclamen and primula.

Drainage is very important. In the winter we often experience soggy conditions. This makes your plants prime candidates for root rots and some foliage diseases. Mix a few inches of compost into the soil before planting to improve its aeration and nutrient-holding ability. Plant on raised beds if you have the least doubt about drainage.

Fertilize often and in small doses. These cool-season flowers will put a lot of energy into blooming. Additionally, cool soil is less active in releasing nutrients. Thus, regular boosts are needed to get the most out of your cool-season blooms.

Prior to planting, incorporate 2 cups of a complete fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. Fertilizers with a 3-1-2 ratio of nutrients are usually adequate for cool-season color plants. Then fertilize monthly with half the above rate, or every 2 to 4 weeks a with a soluble plant food at the rate given on the label.

Cool weather is no reason to lose color in our landscapes. Plan on brightening up you plantings this fall with some of these dependable cool-season performers.

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