The fall season brings cooler temperatures and not to mention better working conditions for gardeners.
The milder autumn temperatures, shorter days, and increased rainfall also provide better growing atmosphere for many plants. Many of us can add short-term color with flowering plants that we call annuals.
There are both warm season annuals and cool season annuals. South Texas Gardeners must understand that annual color has to be replaced at least twice if not three times a year. Most warm season annuals are planted in May for color during the summer months until about early October.
Summer annuals are then removed as autumn approaches and are replaced with cool season annuals. The severity of our winter and the care provided by the gardener can attribute to whether fall annuals continue to thrive until early May. However, you may consider replacing them in early spring if they have freeze damage. We still should remember that these are short-term patches of colors for our landscapes.
With that time schedule in mind, it's time to start thinking about fall color. If fall color is your goal, here are some ideas for your landscape.
Garden mums are perennials that bloom in the fall as the days get shorter. All forms of chrysanthemums are photperiodic - they set flower buds in response to day length. They are often called "short day" plants or more accurately "long night" plants since they require long periods of uninterrupted darkness to flower.
Mums will bloom consistently year after year if they receive the long uninterrupted periods of darkness. Garden mums will provide several months of color in the landscape, but they will simply provide lush green mounds of foliage the majority of the year. For this reason, they are often used as annuals simply to provide short-term color in the garden. When they have finished blooming, they can be removed and composted just like other annuals that have passed their prime.
Another short-day plant that we abundantly find in the fall is Kalanchoe. Besides the old common red variety, breeders have now provided us with a multitude of colors, but for outdoor color, the standard red variety is still the hardiest. The only downfall with these succulents is their susceptibility to freezing about the time they naturally bloom in our area. Although they usually come back from the root, the beautiful flowers and green foliage turn black and mushy after cold weather.
The freeze damage usually can be prevented if you plant them under trees where they may get a little more frost protection. More prevention can occur if you cover the bed temporarily with blankets on those random nights when frost is expected. Simple stakes will help to support and prop up the blankets and prevent the flower stalks from breaking under the weight of the material. Autumn also brings back many traditional annuals to the garden as well. Some true annual fall-flowering favorites include alyssum, pansies, petunias, lobelia, snapdragons, ageratum and dianthus. Great color can also be obtained from the foliage of flowering cabbages and kales, which add texture as well as purple, muted green and white tones to your garden palette.
These annuals are usually purchased in six packs and planted in the garden. As they mature, they fill in with colorful flowers and foliage from October until April or May if they are properly maintained.
First of all, make sure you select healthy transplants. Just like with your garden transplants, avoid plants that show signs of disease, insect damage and previous water stress. Root-bound plants should be avoided as well as tall, leggy plants that have been there for a while.
Once you get these annuals home, make sure you prepare your bed with plenty of compost to break up the heavy clay soils. Plant the new additions to your flower garden so that the soil level remains the same. It is also a recommendation to remove the top half-inch of peat-pots; don't remove all of the peat pot or you will destroy the root system.
After your new bedding plants are in, make sure you water them thoroughly. Applying a general purpose, water-soluble fertilizer would also be beneficial.
If you plant annuals, be ready to fertilize regularly if you want them to perform their best. Most bedding plants are relatively high feeders due to their rapid growth and multiple flower production. Fertilizing with a liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks will give the nutrients they need, especially right after planting. As the winter progresses, you can slow down your fertilization.
If you are considering adding plants for fall color, these suggestions should help to give you a wonderful display not only this autumn, but also for most of the winter and early spring.