Fall Winter Flower Gardens – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

If you have been interested in starting a fall flower garden and you do not know where to start then this article is for you. This week I am going talk about the differences between annuals, biennials, and perennials. I will also let you know how to prepare the soil in your garden or landscape before the addition of new flowers. Knowing which flowers work best in your fall garden and how to group your flowers will also be covered. All of the flowers I will go over will help to brighten up your landscape during the fall/winter by giving you a burst of color in your landscape. If you think you may get too cold in your area for flowers, the good news is these flowering plants will be able to survive our cooler weather. If you prefer to grow your flowers in containers I will let you know which ones will do the best. Let us start our flower garden with site selection and preparation.

            . The first step should be to locate a site suitable for your flower garden. The site should get at least one half to a full days sun. Next you should determine how large of a flower garden you wish to grow. The larger the garden is the more work will be involved and the more plants you will need to fill the garden. You may be better off to start a small garden and then enlarge the garden a little each year. If you work a garden a little each year the task becomes much easier because you become more familiar with the steps needed. Now that you have selected a site we need to prepare the soil.

            In previous articles I have discussed the proper way to start a vegetable garden and how to prepare the soil. Preparing a bed for annual flowers is similar but there are a few differences. At least two to three weeks before planting your garden you need to either till or turn the soil with a spade. I like to add a minimum of three to four inches of organic material such as Black Kow, Peat, or compost over the top of the soil where my flower garden will be. Then I will use a tiller or a spade to turn this material into the existing soil to a depth of six to eight inches. Be thorough! If you start out small this can be done in a short period of time with a spade but if you choose to have a larger garden from the start, this step can be difficult. The use of a tiller can save you a lot of time so if you have one please use it.

            Once the compost or organic material has been completely turned into the soil, you will need to add fertilizer. Use at least two to three pounds of a slow release fertilizer such as Osmacote per one hundred square feet of bed space. Apply the fertilizer evenly across the top of the bed and once you finished, level the bed out with a steel rake. If you did a good job tilling the soil you should have a rich looking bed ready for planting in two to three weeks. You need to let the soil rest for this time for the materials to work themselves into the soil so do not plant your new plant until this happens. Now we need to choose the types of flowers we are going to plant.

            Many of us get confused when deciding what types of flowers to choose. Several of the big box stores carry flowers which look beautiful but may be at the end of their bloom cycle or they may carry plants that do not grow well in our area. These stores purchase in bulk and distribute them to many stores which may not be in the best climate zone for the plants you have purchased. Reading the plant label can help you decide if the plants you are looking for will do well in our area. One key point to look at is whether the plant is considered an annual, a biennial, or a perennial.

            Annuals are flowering plants that are planted from seed, grow, flower, and then die in one season. Some annuals do well in the summer months and others do well in the winter months so depending on which time of year you are planting your new garden make sure you are purchasing the proper plants. Annuals come in multitudes of colors and are available at many local garden centers. Most annuals are inexpensive and can be purchased in six packs. Although there are many annuals grown in our area that can last more than one growing season, I prefer to think of annuals as plants that last only one growing season. Biennials are plants which complete their growth cycle within two years, and perennials are plants which can last for three years or more. Make sure you determine which type of plant you are purchasing so you can group your new plants together and they will all flower at the same time. Again, read the label included on the plant or ask for assistance from a garden center representative. Now come the fun part, picking your new plants.

            The great thing about annuals is the variety of colors and textures you can use in the garden. Violas are great border plants and when planted in mass can create a striking colorful border. Along with this colorful attraction is a lovely fragrance the blooms give off. Violas are primarily grown in the fall when temperatures start to cool. Many people grow violas from seed but garden centers carry them in trays and many nursery’s let you mix and match colors. Make sure you pick out strong and healthy plants that are just showing buds. If the plants are already blooming your bloom cycle will be reduced. When planting violas be sure to handle the plants carefully. Remove plants from their pots by pushing from the bottom of the pot being sure not to break the brittle stems. Plant the violas at the same level they were in the pot. Each plant should be placed about six to eight inches apart to allow proper growth and blooming. 

            Gaillardia is another plant used in many flower gardens and is available as an annual or a perennial. Because gaillardia grows taller than most annuals, twelve to thirty inches tall, I like to use gaillardia in the rear of the flower garden. The flowers can grow from two to three inches across and look like a daisy. Colors range from fiery red to a dark burgundy. Most garden centers have a good selection of these so pick out the colors you like the best. Depending on the size of the plant you purchase, the distance between plants will be greater so you may not need as many.

            Snapdragons are an annual and can be very hardy in our area even if we get very chilly weather. As the flowers grow they form a spike with flowers alternating along the stem. Flowers begin to open at the top and gradually work down the spire. Because snapdragons come in a variety of colors and heights, pick a variety that matches the height requirements of the other plants you have chosen. Once the blooms are all open on the spire, you may remove the spire for use in the home. After removal, cut the plant back to about six inches to help the plant re-grow.    

            Petunias are really a perennial that we grow as an annual in Florida. With their diversity in color and ability to spread out, petunias can be used as filler in the garden or as a potted plant. When used in a pot or a hanging basket, petunias tend to fill the pot then fall over the edge so use a tall container when planting them in a pot. Both single and double varieties are available so choose what best suits your garden. 

            Shasta Daises are true perennials and a must have for any flower garden. Plants can reach a height of two feet and a spread of about the same. If you use them in your garden you can get two flowering seasons out of them. Shasta’s are also great for cut flowers used in the home. Once the flower is produced, cut the stem and bring some into the home. Cut flowers can last for about a week. As the flowers fade in the garden be sure to dead head them or pinch them off to help the formation of new flowers. Plant your Shasta’s two feet apart. If using a container try Shasta’s in the center and petunias around the side.  

            There are many annuals you can use in the garden to increase the beauty of your garden. Be sure to water regularly because when plants dry out, they die out. I hope you enjoyed this week’s article and remember, without plants we would not be here. 

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