Monday, February 19, 2018

Reeves: Providing some winter color

By Randy Reeves
Nov. 26, 2017 at 4 a.m.

November is the month that we plant several of the annual flowers that provide color until April.

In shade, cyclamen is the flower of choice. Transplants are available at nurseries now in deep red, white, pink and a lavender-pink. Cyclamen is not an inexpensive plant; it costs $3 to $4 for a 4-inch container, but when you see the blooms you will realize that it is worth the price. The plant will bloom all winter as long as it does not get too much sun and is kept watered but not soggy. Fertilize with soluble fertilizer every few weeks.

Even the foliage is spectacular. The leaves are a patterned lush green. They rise from the base of the plant on stems 5 or 6 inches tall and are 3 to 4 inches across. They remind me of a cross between caladium and African violet leaves.

Pansies are the plant for the winter annual bed if you have at least six hours of sun. There is a large selection of colors and several flower patterns. The "Majestic Giants" produce flowers up to 3 inches across. They have a monkey face (black inner color) and are available in blue, violet, yellow, white and red-brown. The smaller monkey-faced selections, such as "Antique," offer light blue in addition to the colors listed for the large-flowered pansies. "Crystal Bowl," "Crown" and "Universal" are three of the clear-faced pansies. They are available in the same colors as "Antique" plus orange. Johnny Jump-ups have dime-size blooms with blue or yellow flowers. Violas are a version of the family that have blooms intermediate in size between pansies and Johnny Jump-ups. Some of the pansy family have fragrant flowers. In my experience, yellow is the most fragrant bloom.

Plant pansies about one foot apart in well prepared soil enriched with compost. Fertilize before planting with one cup of slow-release lawn fertilizer for every 50 square feet of bed. Fertilize every few weeks with soluble fertilizer after planting. Live oak leaves or pulverized autumn leaves make a great mulch for both cyclamen and pansies. Drip irrigation is the best watering method for all annual flowers. Pansies are not as drainage-sensitive as cyclamen but will rot quickly in poorly drained soil. Deer, slugs, snails, and pill bugs love pansies. I have had the deer munch on flats of pansies sitting by the flowerbed where I unloaded them from my truck as I went in for a break before planting. The deer must be fenced away from pansies.

Slug and snail bait or beer traps will protect the pansies from pill bugs and the slugs and snails.

Cyclamen and pansies are the premiere winter color plants for shade and sun, respectively, but you also have other choices.

In the sun, use snapdragons, stocks, ornamental kale or cabbage, calendula, allysum, dianthus and nasturtium. Dianthus (pinks) are the cold weather annual that survives longest into the summer. If you prune off a third of the top in March, it may bloom well into June. Use large transplants of snapdragons, stocks, kale, and cabbage if they are planted now. Nasturtium may even be planted by seed.

Rose care

Though the temperature is usually warm in the fall, that's the time to think about preparing your roses for winter. These steps will help your plants survive the ever-changing East Texas weather.

Roses need 1 to 2 inches of water each week during the growing season. As cold weather sets in, reduce the amount of water, but do not allow them to completely dry out. Plants need water during dry spells, even during the winter months.

Continue spraying for black spot fungus. Watch for insects, and treat only if a problem develops. Use pesticides labeled for the pests you are targeting, and follow label directions. Discontinue fertilizing your roses after August. To slow down the plant growth and allow the plant to harden off, leave the rose hips on the bush after the last blooming cycle.

Add additional mulch to protect roots and conserve moisture. Roses grown in containers need to be put in the ground, container and all, in a protected area of the yard. To prevent wind damage on large bushes, cut the canes back to 3 feet in August or early September. By taking these simple steps, your roses should make it through the winter just fine.

— Randy Reeves is a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent for Gregg County. Join him on his horticultural blog site with the Longview News-Journal, "Talk Across the Fence."



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