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What to do this week –By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”
Cooler weather is upon us now and many of our plants are going dormant. Unfortunately, there are only a few plants that continue to give us color this time of year. Some people believe this is just the changing of seasons and there is nothing we can do but wait for springs return to have a colorful garden. However, there are some suggestions I would like to make to give you a splash of color this holiday season. Some of these suggestions will require a little work but since the weather is cooperating by keeping it cool outside; we can add a few of these plants to the garden and enjoy their colorful appearance for years to come. Let’s get started!
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are probably one the most colorful plants we purchase this time of year to add color our homes and entryways. These plants add holiday cheer to our homes. Poinsettias come in many different colors and textures and some are truly exotic, but the one I still prefer and the one most often sold is the standard red bract varieties. Some people still think the red bracts are flowers produced on the plant however; the red color you are looking at is really a modified leaf. The flowers of the poinsettia are located in the center of the bracts and are insignificant in size. Most of the actual flowers produced are very small yellow and white blooms which are not fragrant. This is not a bad thing as most of us purchase these plants for the color they produce, not the flower.
The great thing about poinsettias is that even if you received a few of these plants as gifts this season, you can enjoy them inside during the holidays and once the cool weather is over, you can plant them outside and continue to enjoy them for years to come. The key to keeping them alive during the holidays is to remove the bright red, gold, or green foil covering the pot. Even though this brightly colored foil makes the plants look very festive, foil wrapped pots hold water around the base of the plant which can cause the plant to become waterlogged and wilt. Most people see the plant wilting and instead of checking the water level of the plant, they add additional water which continues the wilting process. Soon afterwards the plant begins to drop its leaves and then dies. Foil wrappings are probably one of the worst culprits of poinsettia death. The other problem is that some people do not know when to water because they can not see that the soil has dried out. By removing the foil and testing the soil for moisture regularly, you will be able keep your plant alive through the holidays and then ready for the garden.
When the Holidays have passed and the weather begins to warm up around mid-February, you should be ready to plant your poinsettia outside. Take a look at several areas in the garden that receive full sun that may be a good area to plant your poinsettia. Once you have found these potential planting sites, wait until nighttime and then go back to the spots you have selected. Look around for light from a streetlight or an exterior light that may be shining on the spot you picked out. If there is a light shining on that spot then you will need to find another spot in the garden that is free from nightlight. If you plant a poinsettia in a place that gets light at night, then your poinsettia will not be able to set its colorful bracts. In the nursery, poinsettias are shaded to promote the bract color change. Pick a spot that is sunny during the day but that does not get any direct or indirect light during the night and your plant will grow well and give you the holiday color you want.
Go ahead and plant your poinsettia in the spot you have chosen and be sure not to plant too deep. Make sure to water your plant in well to set the roots and add a little fertilizer. Remember, if we get some cold weather (a freeze) your poinsettia could be injured so make sure you protect your plant if necessary. During the growing season prune back your plant at least twice, once in June and again in August to promote a thick head. Be sure not to prune more than one third at any one time and no more pruning after mid August!
Winter annuals such as Pansy’s, Snapdragons, Petunias, and ornamental Kale or Cabbage can add loads of color to your landscape and gardens. Even though these plants are annuals, they are easy to plant and they can add additional color to the garden. I like to create mass planting of these individual plants for best results. Local nursery’s carry small starter plants in six or twelve packs for just a few dollars each so you can pick several of these starter plants for under ten to fifteen dollars. You can also mix as many colors together as you want to give you a palette of color for the garden. I like to mix the colors of pansy’s and snapdragons and then plant them in groups. When I plant these two types of plants together I put the taller growing snapdragons in the rear of the planting area and then I will put the pansies in the front because they grow lower to the ground.
I know there are a few of you that like mass plantings of just one color. If this sounds like you, then let your imagination be your guide. I have seen mass plantings with just one color that look absolutely fantastic. Just make sure that when you are purchasing your plants to check the plant labels and make sure you are only getting the color you have chosen. Be careful because sometimes when people are looking at the tags on plants, they oftentimes do not put the tag back in the right pot. Once you have made your final selections you will need to improve the garden soil where you are going to plant these. Whenever I put new plants in my garden I incorporate a little Black Kow and some peat into the planting holes to give my new plants a solid foundation. Do not plant these starter plants too deep as they may not get enough air to the roots if you bury them. After planting make sure you water settle your new plants by lightly misting over the top of your plants with water. You will have to repeat the watering for a few days to keep your plants moist as they acclimate to the new soil conditions.
Annuals tend to grow fairly quickly when properly maintained so check your plants often to make sure they are getting enough water. The larger the plant the more water they tend to use. In about three weeks your plants will be ready for some additional fertilizer. Annuals like to be sprayed with a liquid type fertilizer over the top of the plants. I like to use either Peters or Miracle Grow fertilizers mixed at one-half strength and then I spray the foliage over the top with a pump-up type sprayer or Dial-a-Matic hose end sprayer. Do not direct a pin stream at your plants but rather use a light spray over the tops of your plants and spray them to the point of run-off. If you have some left over product when you are done, spray the remaining fertilizer over other plants you may have growing in the landscape.
Petunias come in mixed colors and are regularly used in hanging baskets. Most nursery’s have ready made baskets ready to hang on your porch or balcony. Just pick out the colors you like and you will have some ready made color. For your garden try adding some ornamental Kale or Cabbage. Their bright colors will liven up your garden and make a focal point for you to enjoy throughout the cool months ahead.
All of the plants I have mentioned above will add considerable color to the landscape during our winter months. Although the annual plants will only last a short time during the winter months, you will be able to change colors next year to suite your tastes. Next year you can pick different colored plants or even different plants altogether to keep your garden fresh each year. Poinsettias will return next year with additional blooms adding color for years to come. I hope these few suggestions will help you make some good choices for your home and landscape. Have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year! Remember without plants, we wouldn’t be here!