Tidewater Gardening - December 2010

 

Providing Winter Color
by
K. Marc Teffeau

 

Most of the color we find in the late fall and winter landscape comes from the colorful fruit of viburnums, hollies, pyracanthas and other shrubs. If you want to brighten up your winter landscape, consider planting pansies, if you can find them.
These adaptable small flowering plants are grown as a fall/winter/early spring annual in our area. Once the heat of June appears, they start to die out. Most years, if we do not have a severe winter, pansies in our area will over-winter and perk up to give some early spring color.
Pansy blooms are single, with five petals that are rounded in shape. Pansy flowers have one of three basic color patterns. Blooms can be a single clear color, such as yellow or blue. A second pattern is a single color having black lines radiating from its center. These lines are called penciling and are similar to viola markings.
The last type of flower is probably the most familiar to home gardeners. The bloom of this type has a dark center called a “face.”
The pansy has one of the widest color ranges of any garden annual. Included in the color range are red, purple, blue, bronze, pink, black, yellow, white, lavender, orange, apricot and mahogany. The flowers may be of a single color or have two or three colors with a face.
The plant itself is compact, not more than 9 inches in both height and spread, and bears many stems. The medium green, coarsely notched leaves are oval or heart-shaped.
If there is a sudden winter cold snap and pansies freeze, there is a chance they will not die. Many hybrid pansies have a high tolerance for cold, can be frozen quite solid and the plants will not die. You may notice a purple cast to the pansy leaves. This is a sign of stress and can be a result of cold temperatures. Plant breeders have developed a myriad of pansy cultivars over the years which have both cold tolerance and a wide variety of colors and patterns.
The All American Selections (AAS) folks have announced their 2011 flower and vegetable winners. In the sinner’s circle we find a gaillardia, an ornamental cabbage, salvia, viola, and pumpkin and two tomatoes.
I have written in the past about the tough perennial gaillardia plants and their use in our droughty summer landscapes. According to the AAS group, Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ offers a new and unique apricot color for this class. Blooms have yellow edges that deepen to a rich apricot in the center.
The Gaillardia x grandiflora will bloom from early summer into autumn and the compact 12-inch tall plants offer bright green foliage and a tidy uniform habit which is best viewed when planted to the front of the flower bed. ‘Arizona Apricot’ is free-flowering, covering the plant in bright blooms that look great in mass. This long-flowering perennial is hardy in our area, is relatively maintenance free and drought-tolerant once established. Remove old flowers to encourage additional blooming.
I mentioned earlier the use of fall planted pansies to give color to drab late fall and winter landscape. Another plant that will add color is ornamental cabbage. For 2011, AAS chose Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’ F1 as their cool season bedding plant winner. It is interesting to note that this is All America Selections’ first winning kale (edible or ornamental) in 78 years of trialing.
‘Glamour Red’ is unique for its shiny leaves. The waxless quality of the leaves makes them shiny with a more intense, vivid color as compared to existing ornamental cabbages. ‘Glamour Red’ is a fringed-leaf type Brassica Oleracea with a flower head size of 10 to 12 inches.
Leaf coloring begins when night temperatures fall below 55° for approximately two weeks. Expect good disease tolerance in all regions and frost tolerant blooms from November to March in warmer climates.
On the vegetable side, one of the 2011 AAS winners is a tomato called ‘Terenzo’ F1. ‘Terenzo’ is a high-yielding red cherry fruited ‘Tumbler’ type of tomato that is a prolific producer on a tidy low-growing, trailing plant. The round fruit is a standard size cherry having an approximate size of 1¼ inches and an average weight of 0.7 ounces.
A brix sugar content of 6% ensures this is a sweet tasting tomato. With a plant height of only 16 to 20 inches, this compact variety is suitable for growing in hanging baskets or containers as a patio-type tomato.
This very easy-to-grow determinate bush variety requires little maintenance and produces fruits that are more resistant to cracking. ‘Terenzo’ is loaded with a bountiful harvest of flavorful, easy-to-pick fruits throughout the summer. So, when you are planning your 2011 gardening season and want something different, check with your local garden center to see if they will be selling these All American Selection winners.
Holiday plant color is now showing up in local stores and garden centers with the arrival on poinsettias. Poinsettias start to appear right before thanksgiving. They range in all sizes and colors, not just the traditional red.
When shopping for poinsettias, look for ones with leaves to the bottom of the plants that are healthy and green. For longest life, choose a plant with the flowers not yet open – these are the rather inconspicuous yellow lumps at the center of the brightly colored bracts (actually, these colored parts are modified leaves). Visit a greenhouse to be awed by the masses in bloom, and to find some of the latest varieties with marbled or spotted bracts.
Make sure to keep the plant covered and out of cold on the way home, and away from drafts once you get it home. Poinsettias are quite sensitive to the cold. Also, be sure to keep them well watered, but not over watered. Poinsettias will show that they need to be watered by exhibiting drooping foliage. But, it is better to provide a regular watering to the plants. Going through too many dry/wet cycles will shorten the life of the plant and its display.
Other holiday flowering plants you might look for are cyclamen, azaleas and kalanchoe. None of these plants, including poinsettias, like to be too wet. Cyclamen and azaleas last better slightly cooler, while kalanchoe and poinsettias prefer slightly warmer (65 to 70°).
Amaryllis is a bulb you can buy potted, in bloom or just as a bulb or bulb kit to give as a gift. They are easy to grow and should bloom within a couple months of planting, depending on the variety. Generally, these plants are treated as a single-season plant and then are discarded. Some people do have success, however, in maintaining them. For the amaryllis, after it has flowered, cut out the dead flower stalks and replant the bulb to keep it going to bloom again the next season.
Another December indoor gardening activity is to start seeds of basil, chives, sage or other herbs for a winter windowsill herb garden. If you don’t have a sunny windowsill, consider setting up a light garden using fluorescent bulbs suspended a few inches above the tops of plants. Picking and adding fresh herbs to your cooking will add flavor to your winter dishes.
If you have any leftover spring flowering bulbs that you didn’t plant, consider potting a few for winter bloom indoors. Forcing bulbs is not a complicated process; you are merely providing the right conditions for the bulbs to bloom indoors. Even if you planted all your spring bulbs, consider buying some more. Some bulb varieties are more adapted to this than others, and are so marked. They may include tulips, daffodils and most fragrant hyacinth varieties.
Pot the bulbs in a good potting soil. Make sure containers have drainage holes so water doesn’t accumulate in the bottom, rotting the bulbs. For tulips, place four or five in a six-inch pot. For daffodils and hyacinths, place one in a four-inch pot or three in a six-inch pot, if their size permits. You may place more in the larger and shallower bulb “pans.” Place bulbs so their tips (necks) are just above the soil surface at pot rim level. Make sure there is at least two inches of soil below the bulb for root growth. Be sure to label your bulbs so you remember what they are this winter.
Water well after planting, and place in a dark area between 35 and 45° for at least three months. These conditions allow bulbs to form roots and prepare to produce flower stalks. A refrigerator is ideal, if you have the room to spare. If not, you can place the pots outdoors under a thick layer of straw, in a cold frame, in a cool basement or in an unheated garage. Just make sure they don’t freeze.
Keep the soil slightly moist. After three to four months, remove and place in a warm, lighted area and watch the flower buds grow and develop.
To spread the bloom throughout the winter, don’t bring all your bulbs into warmth at once. Instead, bring out at week to tow-week intervals for a continuous succession of winter bloom.
Happy Holidays!