Everyone knows about pansies!! In early fall the garden centers have any number of colors.  If you have a pot of tired annuals that have been blooming all summer for you, pull them up!!! I like to amend the top soil that may also be tired.  Many times your potting soil has shrunk leaving inches at the top.  Fill this with compost and dig it in before you plant, then add a weak fertilizer around your pansies. They should well during the first part of the winter when you are out there to admire. Many times if mulched and kept damp (not wet) when spring arrives you will have some early blooms.  As it heats up I pull them and add new annual plants that don’t do well until the soil is warm. 

          For a huge single centerpiece on the Thanksgiving table there is ornamental Cabbage or Kale.  They come as a large “rose” about 12 to 18 inches wide and tall.  Seed is easy to find and start with colors of the central leaves in white, pink, cream, or red.  Since rabbits will eat them completely they are not easy to protect until they are tough enough to repel their eaters. So if I start the seeds, I will do so in pots on a bench or table.  One can wait until everything is planted and growing as they do not like hot weather. Garden Centers generally have them as large (pricey) plants or as tiny plants in early fall. So if you can find the colors you want, it is easier to buy them.   They will seem too small to become those large ones but I pull the tired annuals out of my large pots, rejuvenate the soil and plant them down several inches. This saves them from the rabbits.  They tend to lose some of the lower leaves so as they do I fill the pot with soil.  They grow very fast in a cool fall. Four plants will fill a 20 inch pot in just a few weeks, but there is another enemy waiting-cabbage worms produced by those dainty white butterflies.  Just ask your garden center for Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) and keep them dusted until it gets too cool for the green caterpillars.  My favorite pots are bright blue and I have had those big roses still carrying on until Christmas time if it doesn’t go below zero.  I worry about the pots freezing before I do the Kale.

          Not quite as sturdy are the snapdragons! But as I write the last of October there is a group of dwarf, bright yellow ones blooming their hearts out. They have had blooms all summer off and on but during the cool time now they are showing off. Some of them are regular snapdragons but some have their lower “jaw” open instead of closed, making them a wider flower. Books tell me the jaw that drops down to let a bee enter the center matches the weight of a bee. After the first flush of bloom in early summer, cut them back to prepare for the fall show.

          Mexican Hair Grass is about 18 inches tall and waves in the wind like a head of blond hair.  It looks good in a drier area as well as in pots.  Several years ago I bought a few plants (listed zone 6) so I didn’t expect to see them again but they stood pretty tall all winter in bright brown as they threw their seeds around.  Each spring now I cut them off about an inch from the soil and the plant comes up through the dead stems.  By fall they are 18 inches by 18 inches of soft stems waving around.  In addition there are two patches, getting larger every year poking through the snow and waving as usual.

          Roses are actually quite frost resistant and will be blooming when other plants have collapsed.  So I leave my roses to last and then trim off any branches that might whip around in winter and clean up fallen leaves.  If you have had black spot, don’t put them in the compost pile as it might not get hot enough before you use it again.  Any diseased plants need to be treated as contaminated unless you know the compost gets hot enough (140 degrees F. minimum). Otherwise you are spreading fungous and bacteria around your yard.

          HELLEBOROUS (Christmas or Lenten Rose) stays green all winter if they are lightly shaded, and protected from winter wind spots. The leaves are leathery and a little rough with the sap causing a rash in some people.  The plants are poisonous if eaten.  I like to put some fallen branches in the clump to keep leaves from getting packed too tight.  Pick a good place when you plant them as they resent being moved.  The leaves of both Christmas and Lenten rose do not come off a stem but directly out of the ground.  Flowers bloom very, very early and stay on for a number of weeks.  By this time the new leaves are replacing the ones that stood all winter. These can be pulled off to make room for the new. If you are careful you can find new little seedlings to increase your patch or start a new one.  In a mild winter I have seen at least one flower as early as February.  Much work is being done lately by hybridizers to increase the number of colors.

Copyright 2008

*************************************************************ABOUT CONTAINERS


          Clay pots will shatter during a freeze as they are porous and hold water in the spaces which enlarges upon freezing.  The soil is very wet in all our containers and will expand and thaw several times before spring.  They need to be protected.

          Large glazed containers will not break as easily but they can peel.  After the first frost I like to pull the plants out and either empty the pots or turn on them their side. Last year I did some of both and everybody survived.  Emptying does leave piles of potting soil around.  I try to use it again mixed with a good amount of compost.

          There are other large pots of various materials that can stand freezing.  I like to have an extra of the same size, place it close to the original and move the soil which is now going in upside down with compost and move the spare into the space.  This gives the soil the winter to settle and be ready for planting next spring. Potting soils contain a great deal of composted material with little actual soil.  Nurseries have bags of composted materials to “revive” your soil if you don’t have your own compost pile.

Copyright 2008