Texas Flower Garden, The: A Seasonal Guide to Bloom, Height, Color, and Texture

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Pollutants, including toxic metals such as lead, are other potential contaminants. It is challenging to obtain accurate historical information on imported soils, making it difficult to evaluate potential problems. Often improving the existing soil through composting, mulching, and fertilizers is a better option.

Herbaceous ornamental plants and seeds are available from a wide variety of sources. If possible, buy named cultivars selected for their known characteristics of disease resistance, heat and cold tolerance, growth habit, and color. Garden centers provide plants in a variety of container sizes. These plants are often in flower when they are offered for sale, which allows selection of the desired colors and often gives an instant color effect in the garden. Although it is possible to transplant perennials in flower, it is much better to transplant prior to flowering.

Plants sold in cell packs are less expensive than plants grown in larger containers, and their roots usually grow into the surrounding soil more quickly. Select plants that are compact and have normal color. Plants in cell packs dry out quickly, so keep them moist until they are planted. Plant breeders are constantly developing new and improved cultivars of bedding plants.

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Some of the outstanding new cultivars are designated as All-America Selections Winners. The All-America Selections is an industry-sponsored organization composed of a council of judges and over 50 official test gardens across the country. NC State University has a test garden at the J. April is the best time to see winter annuals; July and August are the best months for summer annuals. Trial reports summarizing the results of bedding plant and perennial research conducted are posted on the JCRA website.

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Discount chain stores and grocery stores often sell plants in cardboard boxes, tubes, or plastic bags. These plants were dormant when shipped but may have started growth while on display. If purchased soon after the plants arrive at the merchant, such plants often grow satisfactorily. But they seldom do well if they have dried out or have produced new stems and leaves that are thin, yellow, or pale-green.

If only a small amount of new growth has occurred, these plants may grow satisfactorily but should be hardened off before planting outdoors Figure 10— Mail-order companies offer a wider selection of plants than most local nurseries. While most mail-order companies are reputable, a few are misleading in their claims and specialize in offering small, lower-grade plants. Most mail-order companies guarantee their plants and offer to replace those that arrive in poor condition or fail to grow properly. Most companies ship plants bare root or in small containers.

Northern nurseries often ship only in the spring. When the plants arrive, check to see that they are moist. Start seeds eight to 10 weeks before the last spring frost. Harden off seedlings by exposing them to outside conditions before planting in their intended site. Wait two to three weeks after the last spring frost before sowing. Annuals seeded in the garden sometimes fail to germinate properly because the soil surface crusts and prevents water entry.

Then sow the seed at the rate recommended on the package.

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Cover the seeds with vermiculite, and use a nozzle adjusted to a fine mist to water the seeded area thoroughly. Keep the seedbed well-watered, or cover with mulch such as newspaper to prevent excessive evaporation. Remove the mulch promptly after germination begins so young seedlings receive adequate sunlight. Seeds which are particularly susceptible to damping-off fungal disease, such as sweet alyssum Lobularia maritima , should be sown in hills.

Zinnias Zinnia elegans are another exception to the traditional planting recommendations. In many cultivars of zinnias, some flowers may appear with a large, nearly naked corolla and few colorful petals. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as "Mexican hats. Thin the remaining plants to the recommended 8-inch to inch spacing. When most outdoor-seeded annuals develop their first pair of true leaves, it is time to thin seedlings to the recommended spacing.

Transplant the excess seedlings to another spot. Many perennials are hybrids that do not grow true to type when propagated from saved seed; off-types of color, flower form, and plant habit are common. Although some perennial seeds can be sown directly in the beds where they are to flower, it is usually best to start plants indoors or in a cold frame and set them out in beds after the weather warms.

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An alternative to spring seeding is to sow seeds in flats or seedling beds during the summer for fall transplanting. Working With Transplants. Transplants produce a display of flowers several weeks earlier than direct-seeded plants. This is especially true for annuals such as scarlet sage Salvia splendens and common lantana Lantana camara , which germinate slowly or need several months to bloom from seeds.

Annual flowers are available at a variety of retail businesses in the spring. Buy only healthy plants, free of insects and diseases. Retailers often purchase flowering plants or bedding plants from a wholesale grower instead of growing the plants themselves. While the quality of these plants is often excellent when they first arrive, some retailers are not plant experts nor are equipped to properly care for plants.

Do not purchase plants that have not been watered properly or that have been stored under stressful conditions as on hot, paved surfaces for extended periods.

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Ask when the plants arrived or if a new shipment is expected soon. Freshly stocked plants are preferable to plants held for several weeks. Choose plants with compact foliage, side branches, and good color.

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  • It is tempting to select the plants that are in bloom, but younger, nonflowering plants are often better choices because they establish in the landscape more quickly. Bare root plants are normally transplanted in early spring. In theory, container-grown plants can be transplanted any time of the year. But in reality, plants set out during hot, dry weather, or the cold of winter, require more pampering to survive. Container-grown perennials that flower in late summer or fall are normally planted in the spring, while spring-flowering perennials are planted in late summer or early fall.

    Regardless of the time of planting, allow perennials sufficient time to establish before flowering or before the onset of cold or hot, dry weather.

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    Many gardeners prefer fall planting because the plants develop an extensive root system before new foliage growth occurs. The ideal weather for transplanting is cool and overcast. Wait until the proper planting time to purchase plants even though transplants are often available sooner. Do not plant tender annuals before the danger of frost has passed. Do not plant hardy annuals, such as pansies, until the soil has cooled because planting too early can result in heat damage and disease in the fall.

    Likewise, setting out transplants too early in spring, before the soil has warmed, results in cold damage. Do not set out new plants immediately after purchase. Give them time to acclimate by keeping plants outdoors for a few days in a partially shaded location. Check them daily and water as needed. Because the soil volume is limited in small containers, roots dry out quickly.

    Although plants may appear to recover fully, wilting stunts their potential growth. Soak bare root plants in water for about a half hour before planting. Water container-grown plants before removing them from their pots. A damp root ball is less likely to fall apart. Do not pull plants from their containers. Remove plants from individual containers by tipping each container and tapping the bottom. To remove plants from cell packs, turn the pack upside down and squeeze the bottom of each cell to force the root ball out of the pack Figure 10— If the plants are in fiber pots, remove the fiber from the outside of the root mass.

    When setting out plants in peat pots, remove the upper edges of the pot so that the lip of the peat pot is not exposed above the soil level—where it acts as a wick and pulls water away from the plant Figure 10— Remove the bottom of the peat pot to encourage better rooting and drainage Figure 10— Review the information provided when plants are purchased, or check references such as the NC State Plant Database to determine optimum spacing between plants. Crowding plants increases the likelihood of disease and insect problems.

    A good rule of thumb is to space tall, upright plants such as snapdragons about one-fourth as far apart as their mature height. Space tall, bushy plants about one-half as far apart as their mature height and rounded, bushy annuals about as far apart as their mature height. To make beds look more uniform, use staggered spacing instead of setting plants in straight rows. Once the soil in a planting bed is amended, water it until it is slightly damp. Dig a hole for each plant as deep as the root ball and at least twice as wide.

    Prior to planting, drench the soil around the planting hole with a liquid fertilizer or mixed 1 tablespoon per gallon of water to stimulate root growth. Turn the pot upside down and slide the root ball out. Roots may have difficulty growing into the surrounding soil unless the roots and soil mixture are cut or loosened. Loosen the roots around the bottom and sides of the root ball and spread them out.

    Fill the hole and firm the soil lightly around the plant, making sure the crown is at the soil line. This is sometimes difficult to determine for dormant bare root plants. Set the plants at the same depth or just slightly higher than they were growing in the container.

    When filling the hole, firm the soil lightly.